LSU’s Tiger Stadium (Photo by Julie O’Donoghue / Louisiana Illuminator)
An LSU athletic administrator who failed to report a football player’s confession of domestic violence to the police or university authorities has voluntarily stepped down from the search committee for LSU’s new president after media organizations raised questions about his role in picking the university’s next leader. His decision came about 30 minutes after he attended a virtual meeting of the search committee Thursday afternoon.
“I appreciate having had the opportunity to participate and, obviously, remain completely supportive of your most vital efforts, and will provide any outside assistance you might find appropriate,” Verge Ausberry wrote in a resignation letter.
Ausberry’s withdrawal is the first time any LSU official has stepped aside — or faced any consequences — because of the growing sexual assault and domestic violence scandal at Louisiana’s flagship university. USA TODAY started publishing stories of LSU ignoring dating violence and sexual assault about a month ago. Ausberry’s name has come up more than once in the newspaper’s investigation.
LSU is paying a law firm, Husch Blackwell of Kansas City, at least $100,000 to look into the university’s handling of these issues. The university said it is refraining from disciplining any officials until the law firm finishes its work and presents a report in February.
Ausberry is LSU’s executive deputy director of athletics and executive director of external affairs. He was the only member of the athletics department to sit on the 20-person presidential search committee set up by the LSU Board of Supervisors. He had been overseeing the committee’s outreach to “university constituencies”. The committee’s chairman, LSU Supervisor James Williams, praised Ausberry Thursday afternoon for getting in contact with several community leaders on behalf of the group.
Over the past two weeks, the 15 members of the LSU Board of Supervisors refused to comment and largely ignored inquiries from The Illuminator about why Ausberry remained on the committee tasked with finding LSU’s new president. The Illuminator contacted every supervisor through phone calls to their workplaces and emails. All of those inquires, except for one, were ignored. Williams answered a reporter’s phone call, but declined to comment, though he had previously told The Advocate that Ausberry should “absolutely” stay on the search committee.
LSU’s faculty had raised concerns about Ausberry’s involvement with the search for a new president. James Robinson — an LSU-Eunice professor who spoke on behalf of faculty organizations across LSU’s campuses — told the LSU Board of Supervisors earlier this month that the faculty was worried Ausberry remained in that high-profile position. Robinson didn’t mention Ausberry by name, but said that the faculty was concerned about a person implicated in recent news reports remaining on the presidential search committee. Ausberry is the only person who fits that description.
Ausberry’s position on the board also potentially created a conflict of interest. LSU Interim President Tom Galligan is applying to be the university’s permanent president. Galligan could have been in the awkward position of having to decide whether to discipline Ausberry over the next several months while Ausberry sits on the committee that is deciding whether to hire Galligan.
Additionally, the next LSU president — whoever it might be — will likely oversee any changes or reforms LSU makes to its sexual assault and domestic violence protocols — changes that could affect Ausberry and the athletic department directly.
In a press appearance with reporters earlier this month, Galligan said he would not let Ausberry’s position on the LSU president search committee influence how he handles LSU’s response to the sexual assault and domestic violence scandal.
“I will not let my candidacy get in the way of this investigation,” Galligan said.
But Galligan also told reporters that he didn’t control who sits on the presidential committee. That decision is left up to the LSU Board of Supervisors.
Ausberry violated LSU’s own policies and potentially broke a federal law when he failed to report former LSU football player Drake Davis’s admission to Ausberry that Davis punched his girlfriend. Davis told Ausberry that Davis hit his girlfriend, who played tennis for LSU, via a text message in April 2018, according to USA TODAY.
USA TODAY also reports that another woman — not the tennis player — tried to tell Ausberry in 2018 of dating violence she experienced with Davis. It has been the athletic department’s policy to keep complaints about sexual assault and domestic violence concerning athletes inside the athletic department instead of reporting to them LSU’s Title IX office as required, according to USA TODAY.
Ausberry told The Advocate that Davis recanted his previous admission of hitting his girlfriend when Ausberry called him immediately after receiving the text. Ausberry said this was a factor in his decision not to report the incident to the police or university authorities, though, he said, with hindsight, he should have made a different call.
Police only found out about Davis’s text to Ausberry months after it was sent, when Davis was being investigated in another domestic violence incident involving the tennis player and law enforcement searched Davis’s phone. The violence between Davis and his former girlfriend had escalated. He strangled her a few months after the text to Ausberry, and Davis eventually pleaded guilty to two counts of battery and violating a protective order. He has since left LSU and been arrested again for alleged violence against another dating partner, though that case hasn’t gone to court yet.
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