LSU is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education over how the university reports and investigates crimes on campus, a probe opened after a groundswell of students raised allegations that LSU mishandled their domestic violence and sexual misconduct cases.
University officials acknowledged the investigation on Friday after The Advocate reported it, citing two sources close to the investigation. One source with direct knowledge told the newspaper that the Department of Education had notified LSU "that they will be investigating their safety practices."
The investigation centers on possible violations of the Clery Act, a federal law that requires college campuses that receive federal funding to issue warnings about threats on campus and to make information public about crimes on campus. U.S. Department of Education officials wrote to interim LSU President Tom Galligan Feb. 2 to notify him that they were opening an investigation, and to inform him that LSU is required to start submitting a series of documents to the department by March 4.
Alexandra Reyes thought she had an airtight case of sexual misconduct for LSU to investigate.
"This week, LSU was notified that the U.S. Department of Education would be conducting a campus crime program review related to Clery Act requirements," said LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard on Friday afternoon. "Campus safety and the well being of those at LSU is always our priority, and following Clery guidelines for reporting and notifying the campus community is an important part of crime prevention that we take extremely seriously."
In her letter to Galligan, Clery Group Acting Director Lisa Bureau wrote that her office had received multiple complaints about the university violating Clery protocols and had also reviewed media reports that raised similar allegations.
“Taken together, our analysis of the complaints and media accounts raise serious concerns about LSU’s compliance and the effects that any violations may have on victims of crime and the accuracy and completeness of the University’s crime statistics and other campus safety information,” Bureau wrote. “The objective of this review is to further assess the nature and extent of any violations that may be identified and to ensure that effective remedial action is taken, as needed.”
The Clery Act includes a sexual assault victims’ bill of rights. It also requires that when someone reports dating violence, sexual assault and similar crimes, they be presented with their options for notifying law enforcement, receiving counseling, receiving accommodations for housing and classes and more.
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“A lot of Clery pieces are tied to rights for that individual or to transparency,” said Abigail Boyer, the associate executive director of the Clery Center, a national nonprofit that works with universities on complying with the act.
Last year, USA Today first reported that LSU had botched investigations into rapes and domestic violence incidents involving student-athletes, including former Washington Football Team running back Derrius Guice and former LSU wide receiver Drake Davis. Several other women also said that LSU did not thoroughly investigate their allegations of sexual misconduct involving non-athletes as well. And The Advocate reported that even when LSU found students responsible for violating Title IX, the university issued weak punishments in many instances.
While Galligan has pledged his support for survivors of such crimes and vowed to correct any problems with LSU’s policies, LSU has also fought in court to keep from releasing records about sexual assault and domestic violence incidents on-campus.
When former LSU student Samantha Brennan requested copies last year of a police report that she filed about Guice in 2016, LSU refused to release those records until she and USA Today filed a lawsuit against the university. A state judge ordered LSU to turn over the unredacted reports earlier this year; LSU has appealed the ruling.
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LSU’s crime program review could take several months, if not years. A U.S. Department of Education spokesman declined to comment Friday.
While a visit from Department of Education officials is a customary step in the process, the letter to Galligan says the review will be off-site. LSU is also being asked to turn over 26 different types of records from between 2016 and 2020. Those include annual security reports, LSU Police Department call logs, Greek Life misconduct incident reports, LSU Athletics organizational charts and more.
Once Department of Education officials have completed their visit and received the necessary information, they will usually send a draft report to campus officials, who will be given the chance to respond, Boyer said. The two sides can also work to reach a type of settlement.
If the investigation concludes with findings that LSU has violated Clery Act requirements, the university will be given conditions about how to improve compliance. LSU could also face a stiff fine.
For example, the U.S. Department of Education fined Michigan State University $4.5 million — its largest-ever fine — after a Clery Act investigation in 2019.
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Michigan State made national headlines when more than 100 women alleged that Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics national team doctor who worked for MSU, sexually abused them under the guise of medical treatment. The Clery investigation into MSU found failures to issue timely warnings, failures to establish an adequate system for collecting crime statistics, failures to properly classify reported crimes and a lack of administrative capability.
MSU agreed to hire an independent Clery compliance officer and to create a Clery committee, along with creating more protective measures for student-athletes.
The federal Department of Education’s review is not the only investigation LSU faces. Last November, the university commissioned its own probe into potential violations of Title IX, the federal law that prevents universities from discriminating against students based on their gender. The investigation, to be conducted by the law firm Husch Blackwell, is expected to be completed later this month.
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