BATON ROUGE – Enraged Louisiana legislators and distraught student survivors grilled Louisiana State University Interim President Tom Galligan for nearly three hours Wednesday about his decision not to fire employees found to have contributed to the school’s years-long, systemic failure to address sexual misconduct.
Their questions and complaints came during an all-day hearing before the state Senate Select Committee on Women and Children about sexual misconduct allegations and incidents at Louisiana’s colleges and universities.
Some called LSU’s decision to only suspend two employees a “direct insult” and a “slap in the face” to victims. Democratic state Reps. Aimee Adatto Freeman and Regina Ashford Barrow compared LSU’s administration and athletic department to an “organized crime ring” and the “mafia” for keeping quiet about sexual misconduct at the school.
Galligan defended his decision, saying employees who failed to report allegations of sexual misconduct to the school Title IX office lacked clear direction at the time. He promised they would do the right thing going forward.
“They were put in positions that were impossible for them,” Galligan said. “The confusion was absolutely rampant. When I looked at the training, the policies, it wasn’t clear. The employees didn’t understand what their obligation was.”
He said he felt “conflicted” about his decision but that he felt an equal obligation to be “fair to everyone involved.”
Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, a Democrat, suggested a resolution calling for more significant punishments for Deputy Athletic Director Verge Ausberry and Senior Associate Athletic Director Miriam Segar, as well as any others found to have mishandled misconduct reports.
Such a resolution may be on the table for a future hearing, as could a slate of new bills and resolutions demanding increased oversight at Louisiana universities, Republican Sen. Beth Mizell told USA TODAY. She said lawmakers also want to hold officials accountable for breaking existing rules.
In the meantime, the committee did formally adopt a statement Wednesday that expressed “deep and profound disappointment and dismay” over LSU’s response to reports of sexual harassment by students. It also requested the university reconsider the punishments for employees found responsible of mishandling those reports.
“In order to restore trust, there must be consequences,” the statement read.
The criticism follows Galligan’s announcement on Friday that the university would fire no one in connection with the widespread mishandling of sexual assault allegations. Instead, he said, he had suspended Ausberry and Miriam Segar without pay for 30 and 21 days, respectively. Both were named extensively in an independent investigation into the school’s handling of sexual assault allegations done by law firm Husch Blackwell.
The report was released publicly on Friday and found a “serious institutional failure” created by campus leaders who never spent enough money, left investigative offices understaffed and, ultimately, left students at risk by not recognizing the trauma abuse victims experience, an investigation by an outside law firm found.
LSU hired Husch Blackwell in November to conduct the investigation after reporting by USA TODAY revealed widespread problems.
Lawmakers and LSU students called to testify, including several who shared their stories and identities publicly for the first time, said if LSU is going to appropriately address the problems on its campus, it needs to clean house.
“The abuse and cover-ups are disgusting, and these people need to be held accountable,” said Calise Richardson, a former student who reported dating violence by then-LSU football player Drake Davis, and whose case was found to have been mishandled by LSU athletic department employees. “Am I undeserving of justice because of LSU’s failure? Do I have to be abused again just to receive justice?”
Both Richardson and Jade Lewis, a former LSU tennis player, shared emotional testimony of being physically abused by Davis while he was an LSU student. Before Wednesday, they had only publicly detailed their stories to USA TODAY, which reported their accounts in November and December as part of its investigation into the school.
Davis later pleaded guilty to two assaults of Lewis; prosecutors dropped other charges against him in exchange.
Some lawmakers held their faces in their palms, and others leaned their heads back in their chairs as they listened to the students’ accounts of horrific abuse.
Former students Samantha Brennan and Abby Owens testified in person that they experienced sexual assault and misconduct at the hands of former LSU football star Derrius Guice. Brennan went public with her story in a USA TODAY report in November, and Owens in August, though Owens, a former LSU tennis player, had chosen to remain anonymous at the time. Brennan criticized Husch Blackwell for omitting key details they’d given to investigators in its report, as did Richardson and Lewis.
Another student, Ricky Bryant, told his story of being sexually assaulted by a former LSU student. He said he did not report it because he knew LSU would have protected his abuser.
After hearing the survivors’ testimony, the lawmakers called Galligan back to the stand and asked him if he still felt “conflicted” after hearing the student’s stories. He was non-committal.
“I’m going to implore you to reconsider your decision,” Peterson said to Galligan. “The truth matters. Leadership matters. If you’re going to remain as president, we have to trust that you’re going to make the right decisions. I’m not sure if that’s happening right now.”
When asked by USA TODAY after his first testimony if he’d reconsider the discipline imposed on Ausberry and Segar, Galligan said “maybe,” but that he needed more time to process the day’s testimony. He added that he is not currently considering discipline for other employees but did not rule out the possibility.
The lawmakers also pointed out that they thought they’d addressed these issues in 2015, when they spent considerable time debating and enacting a slate of laws aimed at protecting students from campus sexual violence. Those policies are fine, they said. The problem is the employees who have repeatedly failed to follow them.
“To say people didn’t know what to do, it’s just bull,” said Republican Rep. Paula Davis, “I’m sorry. It’s bull. LSU failed them. I feel immense disappointment and sadness right now.”