Suit prompts LSU to plan more oversight of fundraising arms _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LSU students walk by the campanile.

LSU will publicly release the findings of its probe into a sex scandal at the LSU Alumni Association, and the university’s governing board could take action at its meeting next month to provide more oversight of the school’s fundraising arms.

Longtime Alumni Association leader Charlie Roberts retired from the association last month after a former Alumni Association employee filed a lawsuit claiming that the two had entered into a monetary arrangement so that she would keep their sexual relationship a secret. The lawsuit is ongoing, with several top Alumni Association employees — including new CEO Cliff Vannoy — facing depositions over what they knew about Roberts’ relationship with Kay Heath.

LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander alluded to the scandal and Roberts’ resignation during an LSU Board of Supervisors meeting Friday and said that — coming off of a record fundraising year — the university wants to assure its alumni that it’s looking into how its outside fundraising groups are run and how their money is spent.

“We are making sure that resources have been used correctly, wisely and in the best interest of LSU,” Alexander said.

Heath’s lawsuit claims Roberts, 78, offered Heath, 63, payments of $3,200 a month for the rest of her life if she kept their alleged relationship secret. She sued Roberts and the LSU Alumni Association after the payments allegedly stopped in July, but she dropped the association from her suit when Roberts resigned.

Roberts has denied Heath’s allegations about the financial arrangement but admitted to a personal relationship with her.

Rolfe McCollister, a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors, said he was “very concerned” by the allegations lodged in the lawsuit, which included Heath’s claim that she was hired for her marketing job at the association so she could afford to leave her husband and continue her relationship with Roberts. McCollister said anyone found of wrongdoing in LSU’s audit of the association should be held accountable.

“In the end, the buck stops with LSU and this board,” he said.

He also said the university’s fundraising groups shouldn’t operate as “silos with unchecked power.”

The three biggest fundraisers — the LSU Foundation, Tiger Athletic Foundation and the Alumni Association — operate as nonprofits separate from the university, an arrangement that allows them a layer of protection from operating as public entities.

Roberts, who made at least $300,000 a year as president of the Alumni Association, had overseen LSU’s alumni operations since 1984 — originally as a vice chancellor. He took on his most recent role in 1990, after the Alumni Association was split off to an independently run nonprofit.

LSU is in the process of creating a vice president of institutional advancement position on the system level who also will serve as chief executive officer of the LSU Foundation. Alexander said that job, which is expected to be filled in December, will serve as a direct liaison to the foundations and other outside groups, which he said he believes should be working more closely with one another.

Board Chairwoman Ann Duplessis said a recommendation likely will come at the board’s October meeting that could mean an additional layer of oversight — possibly through the board’s finance committee.

“We have taken this situation very seriously,” she said.

LSU raised about $73 million last year through its outside fundraising efforts last year, Alexander said.

Alexander, whose contract the board extended through 2019 this week, said the goal is to increase that amount even further. He noted that LSU’s endowment — currently at about $400 million — lags most major universities.

“We have a long way to go with our fundraising,” Alexander said. “Our endowment is nowhere near where it should be.”

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