BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana’s top higher education policymaking board pledged Wednesday to tighten oversight and enforcement of college policies against sexual misconduct, in response to a report detailing widespread failures in Louisiana State University’s handling of student allegations of abuse.
Members of the Board of Regents said they intend to ensure the state’s four public college systems have established strong stances against sexual misconduct, enacted prevention programs, provide support services for students who allege misconduct and respond strongly to those claims.
“We’re going to have to flex our role in policymaking and enforcing our policy,” said board member Wilbert Pryor, of Shreveport. “We’re going to have to put our foot down on our institutions.”
Board chairman Blake David and Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed sent college governing board leaders a list of questions asking for information about how they handle misconduct claims. They want answers by April 9.
The Board of Regents review stems from an independent report that determined LSU for years mishandled its response to student allegations of rape, domestic violence and assault, in some instances ignoring the claims entirely.
LSU hired law firm Husch Blackwell to review its handling of complaints under federal Title IX laws after reporting by USA Today scrutinized the school’s handling of sexual assault cases implicating two former football players.
“I do think this is a moment to recognize we have seen systemic failure,” Reed said. She pledged to look for ways to improve campus efforts to combat sexual misconduct and “to make sure we’re educating safely.”
The letter asks college system leaders to provide information about sexual misconduct policies, awareness programs and points of contact for reporting allegations. They want descriptions of Title IX offices, confirmation that all employment contracts include a morality clause, information about anti-hazing policies and details of athletic department policies against misconduct.
A 2015 law required a statewide policy for handling student sexual assault allegations and for bolstering prevention efforts. The Board of Regents enacted the policy, but the LSU report and testimony before state lawmakers indicates the school didn’t follow all the provisions.
“We cannot have phenomenal policy and not have steadfast enforcement,” Reed said.
University of Louisiana System President Jim Henderson applauded the letter.
“I thought that was a great way for us to start framing the conversation,” he said. “Folks, this is so vitally important that we get this right.”
But Henderson said while LSU is currently singled out for criticism, “that’s not the extent of the problem” across campuses.
A member of the LSU Board of Supervisors was on the video conference for Wednesday’s discussion, but no one from the university spoke.
In response to the scathing report, LSU interim System President Tom Galligan is creating a new office to handle Title IX complaints and has pledged to follow every Husch Blackwell recommendation for improvement. He handed out two short-term suspensions, noting several top campus leaders in charge during the time outlined in the report no longer work at the university.
Former football coach Les Miles was pushed out of his coaching job at Kansas after the report detailed allegations of inappropriate behavior with students during his tenure at LSU. Ex-LSU System President F. King Alexander resigned from his job leading Oregon State because of his role in the mishandling of sexual misconduct cases at LSU. Oregon State officials said Alexander wouldn’t be able to rebuild trust with their university community.
Louisiana state lawmakers, particularly female lawmakers, are pushing LSU to enact stronger punishment for remaining officials involved in bungling the university’s response to student allegations of abuse and assault. The lawmakers are planning another hearing Friday.
Gov. John Bel Edwards has defended LSU’s disciplinary response as reasonable, but announced Wednesday he’s backing law changes proposed by female legislators reacting to the report. Edwards said he’ll support a bill to specifically identify those required to report campus sexual misconduct allegations to authorities and require firings of those who fail to report.
The Board of Regents vowed to keep a focus on the issue.
“This is not going to be easy. This is not going to be a one-hour conversation and everybody’s off to do the right thing,” Reed said.
Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.