(Photo by Julie O’Donoghue)
LSU has made progress — but still hasn’t fully staffed — its Office of Civil Rights and Title IX, which investigates and handles sexual misconduct.
The office will have eight employees by the start of the fall semester on Aug. 23, according to the university. That’s way up from the two staff members it had for most of last year, but far fewer than the 14 to 18 positions that LSU leaders had said they would hire during interviews with the media last April.
Inadequate staffing in LSU’s Title IX office contributed to the university’s sexual misconduct and dating violence scandal last year, according to Husch Blackwell, the law firm hired to investigate LSU’s widespread failures on sexual assault.
Sufficient staffing in the Title IX office was the first and “most important” of the 18 recommendations Husch Blackwell made to LSU last March in a 150-page report.
“Until the Title IX Office is staffed appropriately, the vast majority of concerns identified through this report will continue to plague the University,” wrote Scott Schneider, an attorney for Husch Blackwell.
USA TODAY newspaper last fall detailed how LSU repeatedly mishandled and ignored sexual misconduct on campus, particularly that involving football players and former LSU football coach Les Miles. Athletes accused of rape, harassment and dating violence often went unpunished — despite complaints from multiple women.
In many cases, LSU’s athletics department chose not to bring sexual misconduct allegations to the Title IX office — as they were required to do. But Schneider said even if the incidences had been reported, LSU did not have enough Title IX staff to adequately respond to these complicated cases.
Six months ago, at the time Husch Blackwell released its report, LSU had one part-time Title IX coordinator and one Title IX investigator for its 35,000-student campus in Baton Rouge. Husch Blackwell said most of LSU’s peer institutions had a full-time Title IX coordinator and three to five investigators, who look into sexual assault and dating violence cases.
Husch Blackwell suggested in March that LSU should “immediately” hire a full-time Title IX coordinator, two investigators and an administrative assistant for the office. LSU has filled all of those positions, said Ernie Ballard, LSU’s spokesman.
But the civil rights and Title IX office has been — and will continue to be — managed by a temporary supervisor.
Jane Cassidy, the interim vice president for Civil Rights and Title IX, is expected to stay in her position through this academic year, Ballard said. Cassidy, a former music professor, is not interested in taking the job permanently.
“A university like LSU deserves to have someone who is experienced in the discipline of Civil Rights and/or Title IX. It is not my background,” Cassidy said in a written statement last week.
LSU is forming a search committee to oversee the hiring process and is hiring a private recruiting firm to help with a national search for Cassidy’s replacement. The process will take anywhere from six months to a year, Ballard said.
Former interim LSU president Tom Galligan had said last spring that a search was already underway, but the hiring process slowed down when it became obvious that LSU would eventually have a new leader. New President William Tate didn’t start his job until July 1 and wants to be involved in selecting the leader of that office.
The university has also been operating with a temporary Title IX coordinator, Daniel Swinton, for the past few months, but recently hired a permanent staff member. Joshua Jones, from the University of Kansas, will oversee Title IX compliance, including the handling of sexual assault and dating violence allegations.
LSU still hasn’t hired a deputy Title IX coordinator for prevention and training, as Husch Blackwell recommended.
Instead, LSU is relying on the nonprofit Sexual Trauma Awareness & Response (STAR) to develop prevention and training programs for the upcoming year. STAR has held a few workshops for LSU administrators and is putting together the online sexual assault training class all university employees will have to take this fall. Husch Blackwell had suggested LSU bring in STAR to assist with its anti-sexual misconduct campaign.
There may also be a push for the university to hire more investigators. In 2016, the former head of LSU’s Title IX office had suggested that the university hire five to six investigators in total — four more it has on staff currently.
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