With two federal probes, lawsuits being filed, legislators looking for heads, the state auditor being asked to poke around, and more sexual conduct allegations going public, it’s clear that LSU is approaching meltdown.

When the poorly designed RMBK reactors failed in 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine, Soviet officials first denied the explosion, then tried to dump sand from helicopters to put out the fire, and finally laid out a thick layer of “sacrificial metal” to dilute the melted core as it burned out.

That lesson in mind, a handful of LSU Board of Supervisors members said last week that most of them were unaware of the sexual misconduct claims made against Les Miles in 2013 and that the cover-up led to a culture where administrators well into 2020 tamped down sexual harassment allegations made by female students.

While the majority of members may very well have been kept in the dark by administrators, the board is still where the buck stops, said state Sen. Regina Barrow, the Baton Rouge Democrat whose legislative Select Committee on Women and Children is holding hearings on the LSU sexual misconduct scandal.

Legislators already have filed a half dozen bills. Senators also could invoke their “advise and consent” power over the gubernatorial appointees to the 16-member LSU board.

“We can look at how they are doing their job,” Barrow said Thursday during a break in her committee’s hearing. “Is their oversight working? Because if it is not and we allow them to continue to serve, we can be held complicit.”

A quiet slap on the wrist for Miles eight years ago, with instructions that only three board members know, led their current employers last month to fire Miles and F. King Alexander, former LSU president/chancellor, once the report became public during an investigation into how LSU mishandled sexual misconduct allegations. Only two current LSU employees were briefly suspended. Interim President Tom Galligan argued that given the lack of clear guidance coupled with superiors protecting those accused, due process considerations didn’t allow for stronger discipline.

Misconduct allegations are now spreading well beyond the athletic department, indicating that some academic and administrative leaders also looked at coeds as perks rather than students.

The LSU Board of Supervisors is one of the plum assignments a governor can give. They have to buy their tickets, but the seats are great and the parking is on the front row. Supervisors can give out scholarships. The real draw is the prestige. Historically, members haven’t tried to upset the scene as presented by administrators.

Though nothing in the LSU bylaws say so, the board has operated, largely, as independent cliques with only a few members making decisions on specific issues without involving the whole board, according to three board members speaking on condition of anonymity.

The board, for instance, never seemed to have voted, at least according to its public records, on whether to keep the top job as president of the system and chancellor of the Baton Rouge campus combined, as it was made in 2013, or to make it two separate jobs, as had been the case for roughly the century before. The presidential search committee, nevertheless, is searching for a single candidate for the combined president/chancellor job.

Also not in the bylaws but a practice that grew over the years, supervisors, unlike members of other public boards, generally don’t discuss their own views publicly, referring all questions to the chair. Current LSU Board Chair Robert Dampf, a Baton Rouge attorney, did not respond to requests over a two-day period for comment.

What the bylaws do show is that in December 2014, after the Miles affair, the board ceded to the LSU president unilateral power to discipline and reward all personnel, except coaches, including the ability to award raises of up to 15% without oversight.

Gov. John Bel Edwards tried to talk about the state’s coronavirus pandemic efforts during Thursday’s press conference. He was interrupted with LSU questions.

Asked what his role is in righting the flagship, Edwards said he read the Husch Blackwell report into how LSU mishandled sexual misconduct complaints before it was released in March. He called interim President Galligan and Chair Dampf to insist the report be made public and its recommendations be embraced.

“The days of protecting an institution are gone,” Edwards said, demanding transparency and action. “The safety and well-being of students and student athletes, and the knowledge that they have that they’re going to be safe, and that their parents have that they’re going to be safe, is critically important. There is no advancing an institutional agenda that in anyway compromises that.”


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.