LSU president says staff could be moved around — not fired — as a result of scandal

Lawmakers says they want the LSU Board of Supervisors to do more after sexual misconduct

By: - April 15, 2021 10:02 am
Tiger Stadium

LSU’s Tiger Stadium (Photo by Julie O’Donoghue / Louisiana Illuminator)

LSU interim president Tom Galligan said Wednesday that he may change up the job duties of some staff members following the coverup of sexual misconduct and abuse at Louisiana’s flagship university, but he again stopped short of saying anyone would be fired as a result of the scandal.

“I would anticipate … that there may not be people that are in the position that they are in now,” Galligan told state lawmakers at a state budget hearing Wednesday evening.

In an interview, he clarified that he meant some people at LSU might keep their current jobs, but the people and issues they are responsible for overseeing might change as a result of their past responses to allegations of physical or sexual abuse.

Galligan said he was continuing to review the cases in which allegations of domestic violence, rape and other sexual misconduct were ignored, purposefully hidden or not reported to the proper authorities. He told lawmakers that any personnel changes would come before the Louisiana Legislature’s current session ends in the middle of June. 

It’s not clear whether those actions will be enough to appease lawmakers or students, who have been enraged that Galligan and the LSU Board of Supervisors haven’t been willing to fire anyone in the wake of the scandal — one that now involves a former LSU football coach, former star football players,  a former university president, LSU’s Agricultural Center and the current leader of LSU’s medical school in Shreveport.

Women lawmakers have been saying for weeks that more needs to be done to punish people still at LSU who were actively involved in covering up — or at the very least mishandling — accusations of sexual violence and abuse. Sen. Regina Barrow, who led a series of hearings on LSU’s response to sexual abuse, said in an interview this week that she still feels some people at LSU needed to lose their jobs.

“The more that comes forward, the more it all stinks,” said Barrow, a Democrat who represents Baton Rouge. “I promise you. [The scandal] is going to continue to come up until it is addressed properly.”

For the first time, several men in the Legislature also publicly told LSU that they expected the university to do more to address the cover-up of sexual misconduct and domestic violence. The Legislature’s lawmaking session opened this week, meaning a wider swath of lawmakers are holding hearings, including those which LSU officials typically attend.

House Appropriations Chairman Jerome “Zee” Zeringue, R-Houma, who oversees the state budget that ultimately funds LSU, told Galligan that many lawmakers had “significant disappointment about the lack of action from the [LSU] Board of Supervisors.” He said Galligan should be sure to relay that message to the16 people on the LSU board.

“Thank you, LSU, for showing up,” added Rep. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans, somewhat sarcastically at the very end of that hearing. 

Carter, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was alluding to another hearing held earlier this month with a group of women lawmakers, in which several LSU officials refused to come testify.

There are men in the Louisiana Senate who have also expressed frustration. Senate President Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, said in an interview earlier this week that he also feels the LSU board and Galligan need to do more to address the situation.

“The Senate is very concerned that the Board of Supervisors hasn’t taken any action. The board should send a message with action,” Cortez said Tuesday.

Cortez said he felt particularly close to the issue because his own daughter is a cheerleader at LSU. Several of the sexual misconduct and abuse cases that were mishandled involved allegations that football players and athletic officials mistreated women who were either LSU athletes themselves or student workers in the athletics department.

On Tuesday, Cortez said he wasn’t sure yet that anyone should be fired at LSU over the bungled response, but he said that he would be conferring with some of the women senators — who have been following the issue more closely — about what they thought needed to be done.  

Galligan has reprimanded a handful of individuals in the wake of the scandal, though many women legislators, students and survivors of the alleged abuse and violence have complained the punishments have been too light. 

He placed two athletics administrators — Miriam Segar and Verge Ausberry — on three- and four-week suspensions respectively after it came to light that they had downplayed and outright ignored allegations of misconduct made against football players and former LSU coach Les Miles. 

Ausberry and Segar also been accused of retaliating against another football administrator, Sharon Lewis, who was upset about Miles’ behavior toward women student workers. Lewis is suing LSU and several school officials over this matter.

Galligan has temporarily banned Jonathan Sanders, the LSU Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Advocacy and Accountability, from participating in the student disciplinary process, after USA TODAY reported Sanders handed out unusually light punishments, even when serious offenses, such as rape and stalking, had been deemed credible.

Ghali E. Ghali, the head of LSU’s medical school in Shreveport,  has also been placed on administrative leave after women filed complaints with the federal government over sexual misconduct from Ghali himself and administrators who the women said Ghali protected.

An associate professor at the LSU AgCenter, Niranjan Baisakh, is also on leave after allegations that he stalked, harassed and sexually assaulted one of his graduate students were reported by the Baton Rouge Business Report. Baisakh initially lost tenure over the accusations, but he then had his tenure restored and was continuing to work with graduate students until a media report of his case was brought to light this month.

Some people — including Segar, Ausberry and Sanders — were involved in several cases in which allegations of domestic violence and sexual misconduct weren’t handled properly. In at least two of these cases, football players accused of violence against women allegedly continued abusing women after Segar and Ausberry didn’t properly handle earlier allegations of misconduct.

Galligan, a LSU law professor and employment law expert, has said he couldn’t fire people like Ausberry and Segar, in part because the university hadn’t been clear about what the consequences for mishandling sexual misconduct and domestic violence cases might be. The staff, including Ausberry and Segar, didn’t realize they might lose their jobs over it. 

Lawmakers are already trying to address this lack of clarity through new legislation. Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, has filed a bill that would say university employees would lose their job if they did not report allegations of sexual misconduct or domestic violence to a university’s Title IX office. Under this proposed law, people who respond to misconduct as Ausberry and Segar did would automatically lose their jobs.

But on Wednesday, Galligan said LSU still has not adopted its own written policy yet that explicitly states that university staff members would lose their jobs if they failed to report allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct to the school’s Title IX office.

“I think we haven’t written it because we have been writing so much other stuff,” responded Galligan, when Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, asked him why no written policy had been drafted.

In an interview after the meeting, LSU officials said putting such a written policy in place is a process with many steps and that LSU has been tied up with trying to respond to the scandal in other ways.

Freeman said she thought LSU could speed up the timeline for putting such a written policy in place by lifting a similar written policy the University of Louisiana system uses. 

Freeman also said she thought LSU officials needed to say more — and be more publicly apologetic — in its public response to the scandal. Specifically, she told Galligan that LSU football coach Ed Orgeron needed to be more involved in spreading an empathetic message.

Freeman was particularly frustrated with a media appearance Orgeron had made this week, in which she said he waved off and dismissed questions about LSU’s sexual misconduct scandal, which has centered around the football team.

“Couldn’t Coach O say something more respectful?” Freeman asked Galligan.

Freeman went on to say Orgeron is one of the most famous people in Louisiana, and the most famous LSU employee. It would be helpful if he used his platform and social media following to spread a message that LSU is taking matters of sexual misconduct and domestic violence seriously.

“The fact is if we are going to fix this problem, then Coach O needs to help us fix this problem,” Freeman told Galligan.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press.