Amid controversy at LSU, officials of the Louisiana Board of Regents said Wednesday changes are needed to strengthen sexual harassment policies at colleges and universities statewide, including how complaints are handled.

Uniform agreements between campuses and local law enforcement, steps aimed at preventing students accused of sexual misconduct from simply transferring to other schools and closer oversight of campus operations were among the suggested changes aired during a special, hour-long session.

Without citing LSU, Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said that, when there are breakdowns on individual campuses, "we all fail."

"All of higher education is diminished because of that," Reed told the board.

Regents officials also said they have sent letters to the leaders of all four college systems asking questions on sexual misconduct issues, including policies, details of the Title IX offices that are supposed to investigate complaints and any rules that apply specifically to athletic departments.

"More needs to be done to protect students enrolled in Louisiana's postsecondary institutions from sexual misconduct," according to the March 23 letter, which was signed by Reed and board chairman Blake R. David.

Gov. John Bel Edwards also said Wednesday he will be proposing bills for the 2021 legislative session to make sure students and parents can count on a safe campus environment.

The regents' gathering took place at a time when LSU is under fire for mishandling allegations of sexual misconduct for years.

The fallout has already cost former LSU football coach Les Miles his job as football coach at Kansas University and former LSU President F. King Alexander his job as president of Oregon State University.

Meanwhile, the issue continues to generate percolate on campus, including criticism that only two LSU officials were suspended briefly for their roles in the breakdown.

"We have seen anger, frustration, disbelief; a full range of emotions," Reed said.

"It is clear that there have been some systemic failures and have to be addressed," she said. 

"It is our responsibility to make sure we are checking in with all of the institutions and management boards."

Victor Jones, general counsel for the board, said among the changes he would recommend are how to address cases where students accused of sexual misconduct transfer to other schools to dodge responsibility.

Jones said uniform policies are also needed so that colleges have a memorandum of understandings with local law enforcement on how to handle allegations of sexual misconduct.

He said each campus now has its own policy on those agreements with police, which he said "has resulted in discrepancies in enforcement."

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New rules for campuses reporting sexual harassment training, requiring college presidents to certify that the schools are in compliance and periodic audits on sexual misconduct policies are other possibilities.

Wilbert Pryor, a member of the board who lives in Shreveport, said he heard Alexander blame budget issues for shortcomings in operating an efficient Title IX office during his time as president of LSU.

"We have to look at our priorities and put our foot down on institutions and find out beforehand if they are saying we cannot establish a good office to enforce these policies," Pryor said.

"Why can you build a $29 million football locker room but you cannot establish a Title IX office," he added.

Title IX is one of the federal laws aimed at preventing sexual and gender discrimination.

The Board of Regents has a uniform policy on sexual harassment and related issues that was enacted in 2015, including what constitutes sexual misconduct, sexual assault, stalking and domestic violence.

It also spells out the obligations of colleges and universities, including thorough investigations when allegations surface, due process for both the accuser and accused and mandatory reporting on how the issue was resolved.

Robert Levy, a member of the board who was chairman when that policy was enacted, said it is a good one even if improvements make sense now.

"I know it seems like a horrible, brand new day," said Levy, who lives in Dubach.

"But let me tell where we were in 2012, '13, '14," he said.

"We have come a long way. We are trying to change a culture."

The regents' letter to college system leaders asks for details on how sexual misconduct allegations can be made, making sure that employment contracts include a morality clause and how many confidential advisers schools have to assist those filing complaints and whether they have met the mandatory training requirements.

Edwards told a conference led by former state Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, that he will propose legislation to mandate the reporting of allegations of Title IX violations, with those failing to do so subject to firing.

Edwards, an attorney, also wants to make those found guilty of sexual wrongdoing subject to punitive damages in court and for extending the period to file allegations to three years.

The governor said he wants to end the practice of employment contracts limiting sexual harassment complaints to arbitration hearings rather than the courts.

LSU officials on Wednesday announced they plan to hire a full-time employee to investigate Title IX complaints, as well as an assistant to president of the school’s newly formed Office of Civil Rights and Title IX.

 


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.