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Governor supports LSU response to sexual misconduct report

March 18, 2021 GMT
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks about his decision to expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility on Tuesday, March 9, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks about his decision to expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility on Tuesday, March 9, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards speaks about his decision to expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility on Tuesday, March 9, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Melinda Deslatte)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Calling the response “reasonable,” Gov. John Bel Edwards on Thursday defended Louisiana State University’s disciplinary decisions after a scathing report detailed the school’s repeated mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations.

The Democratic governor’s assessment diverges from that of female lawmakers who want LSU to enact stronger punishment and firings for officials who, according to the independent report, were involved in ignoring student allegations of rape, domestic violence and assault or bungling the response.

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“I think reasonable people can disagree. Some think it should have been harsher. Some people think it should have been less harsh,” Edwards said. “I’m not going to take issue with what LSU has decided to do.”

LSU hired law firm Husch Blackwell to review its handling of sexual misconduct, harassment and discrimination 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. The report that followed documented LSU’s widespread failings to adequately investigate, report and document students’ misconduct allegations.

In response to the assessment, LSU interim System President Tom Galligan offered repeated apologies, created a new office to handle complaints and pledged to follow every Husch Blackwell recommendation for improvement.

Edwards previously said he read the entire report and it “turned my stomach.” Asked Thursday whether people at LSU should be fired, he said that after going through the lengthy document, “you cannot help but conclude that people need to be fired. But the people who obviously needed to be fired are no longer there.”

He said the report’s findings covered years that spanned two former university system presidents, a former athletic director, former governing board members and former football coach Les Miles. 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.

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But others mentioned in the report remain on staff at LSU. Among those, Galligan handed out two short-term suspensions.

LSU 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.

Lawmakers at a recent committee hearing — most of them women, but also some men — said Galligan’s refusal to fire people implicated in the mishandling of students’ allegations was insufficient. They pledged to continue pushing for more disciplinary response, with another hearing scheduled next week.

Galligan said university policies for handling complaints were unclear and employees didn’t receive proper training for roles they held, so firings seemed unfair.

Edwards has been criticized recently for selecting only two women for his 15 appointments to the LSU Board of Supervisors. Asked Thursday if he thought that was sufficient representation, the governor said he wished he had tapped more women for the positions — though he didn’t indicate he would make any changes. He said he focused more on racial equality on the board than gender.

“That board does not address the gender diversity that it should,” Edwards said.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.