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A scheduled four-and-a-half-hour virtual hearing of the Board of Trustees is underway at Oregon State University to determine the fate of President F. King Alexander, who has come under fire for the way he handled Title IX issues while he was LSU president from 2013 to 2019.
In her opening remarks to fellow trustees, OSU Board Chair Rani Borkar said the purpose of today’s hearing is not to question the process OSU underwent in hiring Alexander in 2019, but to evaluate his leadership at OSU in light of information contained in the scathing Husch Blackwell report presented March 5 to the LSU Board of Supervisors.
“This topic is of great importance to the Board of Trustees at OSU,” Borkar said. “I realize it will be especially difficult for those who have survived sexual assault … and I am thinking of students at LSU, who may be experiencing the resurfacing of painful memories. This has had a profound impact on members of the OSU community.”
Following Borkar’s opening comments, the board heard more than one hour of public comments from members of the OSU community, including faculty and students, who blasted Alexander for comments he has made on the matter in recent days.
“Being accountable means accepting the consequences of your actions,” said faculty member Ann Rasmussen. “President Alexander made it clear in his meeting (Monday) with the (OSU) faculty senate he has no intention of holding himself accountable. … His behavior is not consistent with OSU’s values.”
Following public comment, Alexander, who is attending the virtual meeting, addressed those in attendance. Later, the board will meet in executive session to discuss possible disciplinary actions, including terminating Alexander, who has been on the job just under a year.
“As a board, we need to decide how to move forward, given the LSU report,” Borkar said.
Though Alexander created LSU’s Title IX office in 2015, an accomplishment he often points to as evidence of his commitment to addressing sexual discrimination, misconduct and abuse, the Husch Blackwell report faults LSU leadership for failing to adequately staff the office and devote appropriate resources to investigating Title IX allegations.
Following the March 5 release of the report, Alexander issued a statement to the media and directly to the OSU community, apologizing for not being more proactive in dedicating resources to the office.
In his comments this afternoon, Alexander appeared initially to be reading from a prepared statement in which he apologized to survivors of sexual assault for “any pain caused by this issue” and said he ultimately “accepts responsibility and accountability for everything that has happened at OSU and Corvallis, just as I’ve done at Murray State, Cal State Long Beach and LSU.”
But Alexander ultimately defended his commitment to Title IX and his actions at LSU. He placed the decision not to fire former head football coach Les Miles squarely at the feet of key members of the Board of Supervisors, who, he says, met to discuss the matter two months before his hiring.
“The board had already made the decision prior to my getting there,” he said. “Unlike here, there is a great deal of board intervention (at LSU) into athletics.”
As he fielded questions from the OSU board, Alexander tried to deflect blame for what took place at LSU away from himself and towards the LSU board.
He also took aim at the campus culture of LSU, which he compared unfavorably to that at OSU.
“Here we are much more advanced in how we see what our values are and we have a much more balanced approach (than at LSU),” he said. “It’s not athletics that tries to run the university (here) and we have higher expectations.”
In perhaps trying to explain why he didn’t do more to address Title IX issues while at LSU, Alexander suggested he was putting out fires on multiple fronts, battling state funding cuts and consolidating entities within the LSU System, while also meeting with push back for trying to increase racial diversity, which he says was met resistance from a “large segment” of the LSU community.
“We had a whole different set of issues at LSU,” he said.
When asked by one trustee why he was not interviewed by Husch Blackwell for its report, he suggested politics could be behind the decision.
“I can only assume. They may have their own motivations being asked to do this by a new board,” he said. “You have a board with a different set of politics in mind than the old board. I can’t rule that out of the equation. That’s Louisiana and politics gets ingrained in everything.”
While the hearing was underway in Corvallis, a Louisiana legislative committee that held a marathon hearing on the Title IX matter last week, sent a letter to the OSU Board, implicating Alexander’s culpability in the scandal.
“President Alexander may be culpable of not only mishandling the reports of sexual abuse, but also failure to protect students from violent sexual assaults, sexual harassment, and intimidation from other students and college officials,” the senate select committee on women and children said in the letter. “Additionally, the voices of these survivors were muffled under the weight of college athletics in an attempt for LSU sports to remain in the spotlight nationally. These inactions constitute a flagrant failure to lead.”
The committee also announced it will hold a press conference Friday on the steps of hte capitol to “discuss next steps.” The Louisiana Legislative Women’s Caucus followed up with a statement of its own, supporting the senate committee’s letter.
At 6:15 p.m. Central Time, the OSU board went into executive session. It is expected to meet behind closed doors for an hour then come out and have a public vote, one way or the other, on Alexander’s future.
(Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include Alexander’s comments at the hearing)