How does LSU correct an administrative culture that ignored sexual abuse complaints?

In the wake of Friday’s report into LSU’s mishandling of sexual abuse complaints, the university announced several changes, including the establishment of a new Office of Civil Rights and Title IX and the temporary suspensions of two high-ranking athletic department officials, Verge Ausberry and Miriam Segar, who were cited in the Husch Blackwell report for their mishandling of sexual abuse complaints against football stars Drake Davis and Derrius Guice.

There was also plenty of rhetoric from administrators and board members, who acknowledged before last week’s damaging report that LSU was ready to take its lumps for years of transgression.

“Husch Blackwell has delivered exactly what we need: a brutally honest and objective evaluation of our culture,” interim president Tom Galligan read from a prepared statement. “It will be hard to hear and even harder to read, but if we are to fix our future, we must first face our past.”

But will the campus culture really change?

Perhaps, but it won’t come easily. As the 150-page report makes clear, LSU leadership has been aware of its Title IX problems for years and done nothing.

“Specifically, over the last five years, there have been at least five reviews (three from external consultants and firms, one from the university’s Office of Internal Audit, and one from a university task force) conducted by the university which have touched on Title IX issues,” the report reads. “Additionally, various community interviewees noted that they too have expressed concerns about the university’s Title IX processes.”

The report details how then-Athletic Director Joe Alleva had concerns about allegations against head football coach Les Miles. “I believe the full board needs to be made aware of the situation,” Alleva emailed then-Chancellor William Jenkins in 2013. “I think his continued employment needs to be seriously considered.”

The full board was not made aware of the situation, and Miles was fired in the middle of the 2016 football season over the team’s poor performance.

Reached Friday by Daily Report, Alleva would say only that “I will let the email I wrote eight years ago speak for itself.”

Some LSU board members noted at last week’s meeting that while LSU “leadership” is getting blamed for the problems, former leaders share at least as much blame, if not more, than current leaders.

“The report talks about a lack of leadership. Some of that leadership is no longer with LSU,” board member Randy Morris said. “I hope those people take the blame for this also. They are responsible for some of the actions that took place.”

But former LSU President F. King Alexander, who was at the helm of the university from 2013 to 2019 when many of the findings detailed in the report took place, defended his tenure in office.

“My commitment to preventing sexual misconduct is longstanding and includes creating LSU’s first internal Title IX office in 2016,” Alexander says in a prepared statement. “As LSU’s president, I required that all reports and concerns of sexual misconduct be provided to the university’s central Title IX office.”

Higher education experts say changing attitudes about sexual assault and misconduct will take time and that LSU is not alone in trying to address this issue.

“Sexual assaults have been a problem on many campuses for a long, long time,” says Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed. “What has changed is people are now paying attention to it.”

But just because society as a whole is paying more attention doesn’t mean a university culture will change overnight.

“There are people at universities who care deeply about preventing and punishing sexual assault,” Jaschik says. “But there is a lot of pushback against them.”

At least one former victim of sexual assault is skeptical. At the start of Friday’s board meeting, former student and sexual abuse victim Caroline Schroeder blasted the board for the way it has handled Title IX issues.

“I’d like to express how little faith I have in this board to do the right thing today or in the months to come,” Schroeder said Friday. “This meeting was not called out of the goodness of your heart. We are here because a national newspaper published a story in November of last year, which created a bit of a public relations problem for you. That is the only reason you are here now pretending to resolve this issue.”

This story originally appeared in a Friday, March 5, edition of Daily Report. To keep up with Baton Rouge business and politics, subscribe to the free Daily Report e-newsletter here.