Louisiana lawmakers say LSU could face consequences for response to sex scandal

Women’s Caucus wants athletics officials fired for concealing violence, rape allegations

By: - March 12, 2021 5:04 pm
Louisiana Capitol Building

The Louisiana Legislature ended its regular session Thursday. (Photo by Julie O’Donoghue)

Some of the state’s most powerful lawmakers said they want LSU to rethink its response to a mammoth LSU sexual misconduct scandal that has, so far, resulted in no one at the university losing their job. 

If the university doesn’t take a different approach, legislative leaders said the university could face some problems while asking for money and other assistance during Louisiana’s upcoming lawmaking session that starts in April.

“I think everybody is horrified,” said Speaker Pro Tempore Tanner Magee, R-Houma, the second most powerful lawmaker in the Louisiana House and a LSU alumnus. “You get the sense that LSU doesn’t care about any of its students.”

“When higher ed comes to [the House budget committee], I think you will have some lawmakers asking why they should get any money,” if LSU doesn’t take more action to deal with the fallout of this scandal, Magee said in an interview Thursday.

Rep. Jerome Zeringue, a male lawmaker who oversees the budget process, agreed with Magee that some legislators may look to push back on LSU. 

“I have heard concerns from legislators who say [the scandal] may influence them this upcoming session,” when it comes to funding for higher education, Zeringue said. “In anticipation of federal [COVID-19 relief] dollars, we expect all of the higher education systems will be requesting more money,” he said. 

Zeringue said he was unable to share whether he, personally, was upset enough with LSU to withhold funding because he had not read through the recent information on the sexual misconduct scandal yet. 

LSU released a 150-page report Friday examining how a handful of cases involving sexual assault and dating violence were handled by the university. The university commissioned the document, put together by Husch Blackwell law firm, in response to a series of articles by USA TODAY that detailed how abuse and sexual assault allegations from students were buried, ignored and mishandled.

Over the past week, LSU’s interim President Tom Galligan has apologized to former students who were victims of assault or domestic violence, vowed to reorganize LSU’s Title IX office that handles sexual misconduct and promised to hire more staff to manage such complaints.

But Galligan and the LSU Board of Supervisors have declined to fire any of the people who didn’t report rape allegations, sexual harassment and violence against women to the appropriate school authorities or law enforcement. The most they have done is agree to punish two athletics administrators, Verge Ausberry and Miriam Segar, with four-and-three-week suspensions respectively.

Several lawmakers — men and women from both parties — have said they don’t think that’s enough, and the legislators are in the unusual position of having considerable leverage over the university.

Lawmakers control how much money Louisiana spends on higher education and whether universities receive funding to renovate or construct new buildings on their campuses. They can also pass new laws that subject university employees to stiffer punishments or more public disclosure. This year, they are also in the enviable position of having extra funding to give away, due to recent federal COVID-19 relief packages. Presumably, LSU and some other higher education institutions will be seeking those dollars.

But if something doesn’t change, LSU might get a cold reception from lawmakers. Women in the Legislature have stated, in very strong language this week, that LSU has to do more to address its failure to protect women students.

Many of them expressed disgust and anger — even using the occasional profanity — when talking to LSU officials about the school’s response to widespread system failures during a 10-hour hearing Wednesday. They consistently shook their heads at LSU officials, as LSU officials explained why no one had yet lost their jobs.

On Friday, the Women’s Caucus — which includes House and Senate members from both political parties — said they believed the two athletics officials, Ausberry and Segar, needed to be fired instead of suspended.

Ausberry failed to report a confession of domestic violence made by former LSU football player Drake Davis to law enforcement and LSU authorities. Two of Davis’ victims, Jade Lewis and Calise Richardson, told women legislators Wednesday that the football player had beat them and wrapped his hands around their throats on several occasions, including after Ausberry knew of Davis’ abusive behavior. Davis was later convicted of domestic violence.

Segar purposefully left former LSU football star Derrius Guice’s name off a report of rape allegations made against him because, she said, she was afraid the documents with the rape accusations would become public. Two women accusing Guice of sexual misconduct, Samantha Brennan and Abby Owens, also testified about their experiences at the hearing with women legislators Wednesday. Guice has denied any wrongdoing.

The Women’s Caucus had also insisted that LSU release documents related to Brennan and Owens’ complaints against Guice. LSU — after months of fighting in court with Brennan over this issue — said the school would comply with her request Friday night.

Regarding Owens’ case, LSU also said that there was no Title IX report on record related to her rape allegation against Guice.

The Women’s Caucus can make demands, but they do need male colleagues to back them up if they hope to put significant pressure on LSU. Women only hold 26 of the 144 seats in the Legislature. Of the four major leadership posts in the legislative body, only one is held by a woman, Senate President Pro Tempore Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton. The rest are held by men.

Mizell, who is head of the Women’s Caucus, said she believes many men in the Legislature are aghast at what has happened at LSU. She said it’s especially galling that the University of Kansas has fired two people attached to the LSU sexual misconduct scandal — football coach Les Miles and  athletic director Jeff Long — while LSU has fired no one.

“We are dragging our feet to do anything,” Mizell said of LSU. 

Magee said many men in the Legislature feel as if they should follow the lead of the women lawmakers in coming up with a response to LSU, but he said disgust at Louisiana’s flagship campus crosses gender, race and political lines.

“Unless they get more proactive on this, I think that they are going to have a really, really tough year,” during the legislative session, Magee said of LSU. “If you don’t do more, you are really cosigning what happened — and that’s horrible.”

Some legislators were hopeful LSU might change its approach — in response to public outcry — before legislators come back to Baton Rouge for the state’s lawmaking session next month.

“For now, we fully anticipate that LSU’s leadership will thoughtfully reflect upon the Legislative feedback and public testimony from the hearing and take appropriate and swift action,” said Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge, in a statement Thursday.

There is one other person in power that could put significant pressure on the university to act more aggressively. Gov. John Bel Edwards also has control over LSU’s funding and has appointed almost all the members of the LSU Board of Supervisors.

Edwards said earlier this week that he wasn’t going to publicly second guess the decisions made by Galligan and the LSU Board over what punishment was most appropriate in response to the scandal.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.