In the wake of F. King Alexander’s disparaging comments March 17 to the Oregon State University Board of Trustees about undue influence by the LSU Board of Supervisors into LSU’s athletics program while he was president at LSU from 2013 to 2019, the organization that accredits LSU has launched its own investigation into the matter.
The president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, Belle Wheelan, told The Chronicle of Higher Education on March 18 that Alexander’s allegations “once brought to the agency’s attention, automatically triggered an investigation under the agency’s ‘unsolicited information’ policy.”
The Chronicle adds that LSU will have to document that the university is in compliance with accreditation standards. Theoretically, the university could be sanctioned if it cannot demonstrate compliance.
In response to a request seeking comment today, LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard says the university will fully cooperate and provide whatever information SACSCOC needs.
“LSU is proud to be accredited by SACS Commission on Colleges and in the interest of transparency, we will cooperate fully with any review,” he says.
Colleges need regional accreditation to receive federal financial aid, so anything that might jeopardize it is potentially serious.
As a practical matter, however, it’s hard to see how SACSCOC will be able to prove LSU is out of compliance based on Alexander’s comments, which described board intervention in the decision not to fire then-head football coach Les Miles—even though an investigation by Taylor Porter had documented the coach’s inappropriate behavior with a female student, among other things.
Under the agency’s standards, specifically 5.2.b, a college’s chief executive “has ultimate responsibility for and exercises appropriate control over the institution’s intercollegiate athletics program.”
A spokesperson for SACSCOC tells Daily Report that compliance issues vary among institutions and that colleges and universities report their compliance in different ways, so there is no single set of standards that will be used to determine whether board members were trying to usurp the ‘ultimate responsibility and appropriate control that was supposed to rest with Alexander.
We have standards but it’s hard for us to be able to answer the questions in a neat little bow,” SACSCOC spokesperson Janea Johnson says. “One institution can show compliance in one way; another would show it in another way.”
She referred additional comment to the SACSCOC vice president over LSU accreditation, Linda Thomas Glover, who did not respond to requests for comment before publication.
Alexander’s comments came to light during a marathon hearing before the OSU board last week over the way he handled Title IX complaints while at LSU.
Alexander recounted his seven-year tenure at LSU as one spent putting out fires on multiple fronts, which included fighting massive state budget cuts, cracking down on a toxic Greek system, battling institutional racism from the “large segment” of the LSU community that did not want him to increase diversity, and navigating a culture of ingrained politics that pushed back against reforms and meddled in athletic affairs.
Despite his efforts to deflect blame, fallout from the scandal ultimately led to Alexander’s resignation on Monday.