The Husch Blackwell report arrived with a thud earlier this month, recounting in jaw-dropping detail LSU’s failures to protect students from sexual assaults, often at the hands of athletes.
“Hard to hear and even harder to read,” said Thomas Galligan, the school’s acting president.
But what’s been hard to watch since then is the lack of leadership at all levels. It’s as if LSU wants to throw $1 million at the Title IX office and put the matter behind us so we can concentrate on spring football practice.
Gov. John Bel Edwards proclaimed himself “mortified,” but if he holds the Board of Supervisors responsible or wants heads to roll, he isn’t saying. The supervisors, past and present, seem chiefly concerned with protecting their individual reputations and their allies on campus. And Galligan, plucked from the law school, has approached the situation with lawyerly caution when circumstances call for compassion — and anger.
What seems clear is that LSU needs new leadership from someone who is not rooted in the skybox culture of Baton Rouge.
Galligan has served the university well navigating the COVID-19 crisis, and he deserves credit for hiring Husch Blackwell and resisting LSU’s instinct to bury its scandals.
But his appearance last week before a legislative committee left victims and lawmakers empty.
He struggled to explain his halfhearted punishment for athletic administrators Miriam Segar and Verge Ausberry, whose account of his handling of a domestic assault incident was found by Husch Blackwell to be “not credible.”
Galligan’s response stood in stark contrast to the passion and indignation of lawmakers and the students who spoke, including Abby Owens, who identified herself publicly for the first time as a survivor of a sexual assault by former LSU football star Derrius Guice, an allegation he denies.
Going forward, LSU faces big decisions that would be better made by a clear-eyed outsider.
Can the university’s athletic values be mended by Scott Woodward, who was publicly defending Ausberry as the school prepared to receive the Husch Blackwell report? Woodward was hired by the board two years ago largely because he knows his way around the two most important buildings in Baton Rouge: the State Capitol and Tiger Stadium.
Can LSU overcome its culture of secrecy, which contributed to a seven-year-long coverup of allegations against Les Miles? Miles was paid millions to keep coaching even as his bosses found him so creepy that he was told to stay away from female students, then he was paid millions more not to coach after the losses piled up.
LSU took great pains to keep bad behavior secret. When LSU engaged law firm Taylor Porter to conduct a sexual harassment investigation into Miles in 2013, for example, the university kept no file on the investigation and intentionally stored it off-site, Husch Blackwell found.
The scandal at LSU is rooted in the notion that it’s more important to have a great football team than a great university, a place that protects all of its students and helps them grow and prosper. But that’s a false choice, as they demonstrate every year in Tuscaloosa and Columbus and South Bend.
With better leadership, Louisiana can have both.