Louisiana Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards did his best Pontius Pilate routine, while a bipartisan group of Louisiana legislators weren’t so dismissive about a history of botched sexual misconduct investigations at Louisiana State University, centered around student-athletes.
Yesterday, a select legislative committee reviewed a report about all of this LSU hastily authorized after adverse media accounts began flowing late last year. The lengthy document details an institution possessing policies unclear about dealing with these matter, if not having the effect of producing a conflict of interest or discouraging plaintiffs with valid concerns; having employees routinely not following that policy even when reasonably clear; receiving repeated reports urging the system to clean up these deficiencies; and permitting occurrence of a number of incidents, with several included for expository purposes illustrating the breakdowns that resulted, that pointed out a number of culpable individuals who in some cases for years acted in ways that they should have known better subverted the goals of minimizing harassment and physical harm as much as possible.
Even if a day late and a dollar short, the system has responded by a pledge to follow the 18 recommendations provided. Beyond institutional error, the report also addressed penalties attached to human mistakes by not addressing these, declaring that discipline was best left to LSU to determine.
Potentially, from the report’s text a number of people could have faced sanctioning, including higher-level administrators, staff members involved in the athletic department and bureaucracy responsible for carrying out Title IX (the term used to encompass policy in this area, named after a part of the federal Higher Education Act, as amended) functions, and coaches. Problematically, a number no longer work at LSU, such as former Pres. F. King Alexander who for years did nothing to redress the shortcomings in Title IX policy that came to his attention. Others apparently had justice delivered from afar, with the University of Kansas firing former LSU head football coach Les Miles after the report became public.
Still, some do, and the punishments to them levied by interim Pres. Tom Galligan many found underwhelming. He suspended executive deputy athletic director Verge Ausberry for 30 days and senior associate athletic director Miriam Segar for 21 days, without pay. Both were ordered to undergo sexual violence training. The report noted repeated lackluster performance of Title IX imperatives on their parts.
But that was it; no one received any markup beyond these slaps on the wrist. Lawmakers found themselves even less amused as Galligan defended his handling of the issue, claiming much was beyond control of people given the inadequacies of the previous policies now undergoing change. They criticized him for not levying more sweeping reprimands, including dismissals.
The report gave him cover, in that it said employees faced numerous institutional hurdles in following the law. But that’s not good enough. Every year since 2015, system employees yearly must complete a course about Title IX and their duties involving it. As the report noted, even as the training modules don’t provide the absolute clarity the authors thought necessary, these actually do clarify matters the official policy statement (in place since 2014) may not.
And (having personally done this every March and steeling myself to do it again before the end of the month; you can find my campus’ version of it here), even as it may have a lot of detail that one might not recall if ever in a covered situation, main points do stick out, perhaps the most prominent (again, under existing policies now undergoing revision) being especially concerning violence associated with sexual harassment, you know it when you see it (and figuratively so, when told about it), and eventually it must be reported to your institution’s Title IX officer. That holds true if, as a supervisor, a subordinate tells you he has a report of it, that even if you then report to your superior, you or someone else up the chain has to get it to the Title IX office. This compulsory activity, the report detailed, often never happened.
The two suspended officials must have known of this … wait, only if they completed the training. Turns out more than a trivial number don’t and, honestly, it’s not difficult to pull an Andrew Cuomo and have someone else take it in your place. However, at a visceral level, even if you faked receiving training, a complaint seems obvious and the report recounted instance after instance of where individuals who had no reason not to know better acted in ways to delay or divert the necessity of investigation.
Galligan wasn’t in his position to impact the handling of the past cases described, but he is there now to send the appropriate message to their bungling and he won’t, to the consternation of lawmakers. They have leverage over LSU in that they budget for it, but that is a blunt instrument and diluted in that everything about that passes through the LSU Board of Supervisors.
Thus, Edwards. He appoints its members, with a few currently pending confirmation – which the Senate could pressure them to lean on Galligan, in the running to get a permanent gig at their sufferance – this upcoming legislative session and others in line for reappointment before his term ends. He has the leverage to have make Galligan conduct a more thorough and appropriate sanctioning.
Except he has washed his hands of the matter. “[I]t really made me sick at the stomach,” he claimed upon reading the report (glad he could find the time, as it took me an entire morning), but his comprehensive vetting and dyspepsia doesn’t go so far as to question Galligan’s judgment: “I’m not going to second guess it.”
Of course, Edwards doesn’t have the greatest track record on the issue. Spreading around the partisan largesse, upon his election he hired Johnny Anderson back into a governor’s office, despite known legal troubles regarding sexual harassment in Anderson’s past government jobs. Then Anderson apparently did enough of something along those lines again to have the state pay out a settlement and force Edwards to send him packing.
The Senate can change his mind. Its leadership needs to whisper how his supervisor appointees (one already doesn’t deserve it) won’t receive confirmation unless the punishments at LSU fit the crimes it allowed to be committed against women.
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