Years ago, I wrote a blog on the lessons learned from one University’s high profile external investigation into its handling of sexual assault cases. Five years later, in the wake of the LSU investigation, these lessons remain relevant.
Early March, Husch Blackwell released its investigation into LSU’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints, finding a serious institutional failure created by campus leaders who did not put the resources into Title IX compliance. Specifically, the report stated that the Title IX office was not adequately staffed and was not provided the necessary authority or independence to effectuate its compliance mandates. Sound familiar?
The result internally at LSU: lengthy unpaid suspensions and education for two prominent LSU officials in athletics.
For employees implicated who have since left LSU, Kansas terminated former LSU football coach Les Miles as a result of the findings in the report. F. King Alexander, LSU’s former President, just resigned from his post as President at Oregon State amid the fallout from the LSU investigation.
In the last five years there have been many institutions that have been in the headlines for allegations of systematic failures. Are institutions learning lessons from these matters? And have the lessons changed, or do they remain the same? My opinion: the lessons remain very much the same and institutions (and K-12, look for my next blog post) need to take notice.
Are times changing?
We have seen institutions build up large Title IX offices to ensure they have the resources necessary to meet Title IX obligations and effectively address allegations of sexual misconduct. In many instances, however, the most robust Title IX offices are a result of a high-profile investigation/crisis. Fortunately, in some cases, sweeping changes have been instituted in response to the findings of external investigators to bolster prevention efforts and compliance. LSU demonstrates, however, that despite changes at some institutions, many remain who continue to take an ad hoc approach to compliance. COVID has not helped matters with respect to funding but the fact remains that Title IX offices must be properly resourced, with appropriate authority provided to the Title IX Coordinator. The new Title IX regulations have brought some of this to light; however, universities need to continue to take a close look at the structure of their Title IX offices, including appropriate support from institutional leadership.
As I said in my interview with the Chronicle for Higher Education, the tolerance level for leadership who do not make addressing sexual misconduct on campus a priority is lower and lower, as it should be. What we see with LSU is not only internal disciplinary measures with employees implicated in the report, but also two high level officials impacted at their new institutions who have ultimately lost their jobs.
Accountability at the highest level is tantamount and expected by the court of public opinion. That starts with the President.
Attention to these high-profile cases continue to highlight the need to engage external investigators in certain cases, especially those involving an alleged culture of behavior. External investigators who understand the university landscape, and will tell leadership what they need to know, not what they want to know, is imperative. External investigators should be well versed in Title IX, VAWA and related federal regulations, trauma-informed and adequately trained and experienced in these types of investigations.
At the end of the day, LSU’s findings should encourage your institution to be self-reflective and self-critical in analyzing where it stands in compliance. Learn the lessons now, instead of through trial by fire when a situation hits your campus, to ensure your students, faculty and staff have a safe living, learning and working environment.
ICS provides a full range of legal and consulting services for K-12 and colleges and universities. These services include external investigations in complex matters implicating sexual misconduct as well as full scale program reviews. Contact us for more information.