LSU board members called to state Capitol, but will they come?

A state senate committee will meet today seeking answers from current and former members of the LSU Board of Supervisors about the way the university mishandled complaints of sexual misconduct in recent years, including those involving former head football coach Les Miles.

But most of the former board chairs that would be in a position to respond to questions from the Louisiana Senate Select Committee on Women and Children won’t appear today.

Sen. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, who chairs the committee, says none of the former supervisors appointed by former Gov. Bobby Jindal accepted the committee’s invitation to testify at the 11 a.m. hearing at the state Capitol.

“I do hope there is some fact finding that we’re able to accomplish today,” Barrow says. “But none of the individuals who were there during that time are coming. One sent a statement. Another said he’ll wait and see.”

LSU has been engulfed in a growing national scandal since the March 5 release of a report by Husch Blackwell detailing allegations first reported last fall by USA Today about the university’s mishandling of Title IX complaints, particularly in the athletics department.

Among the details were reports of harassment by Miles of female student workers. Those reports were investigated and corroborated by Taylor Porter. Still, the university did not fire Miles until two years later, when his team was losing.

In the weeks since, news of the scandal has cost Miles his new job at the University of Kansas and then-LSU President King Alexander his new job at Oregon State University. But no heads have rolled at LSU.

Barrow says the purpose of today’s hearing is not to engage in a public flogging of board members but to try to hold accountable those with the ultimate decision-making authority at LSU.

“My main goal today is to restore confidence but because so many people who inflicted the harm and caused the level of distrust are now gone, we want to make sure we never have this level of breach and harm again,” she says.

Current LSU board chair Robert Dampf, immediate past chair Mary Werner and current board member Valencia Sarpy-Jones are the only supervisors expected to appear before the committee.

A story in the Chronicle of Higher Education details a 2019 meeting at Juban’s, at which LSU board members instructed him to oust then-athletics director Joe Alleva and replace him with Scott Woodward.

Dampf and Werner were reportedly at that meeting and legislators could question them about it today because it speaks to an inappropriate level of board involvement in university athletics, even though the issue does not directly relate to Title IX violations.

Barrow says that if the committee is unable to uncover real facts today about what has been going on at LSU, it may consider issuing subpoenas to former board members to testify, though it is unclear whether select committees have subpoena power.

More importantly, the entire controversy raises questions about oversight and accountability at LSU and other higher education institutions, which could result in legislation attempting to change the way board members are appointed.

Currently, the governor appoints members to the LSU Board of Supervisors, which is one of the most sought-after political plums in the state.

“I think there will be several bills filed, including one for an oversight committee that would require them to come in and let us know what is happening on campus,” she says. “Legislation is also floating around to change board makeup and how board members are appointed.”

Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Covington, who is vice chair of the committee, says the purpose of today’s hearing is not to beat up on the LSU board but to try to move forward.

“Personally, I hope we continue to get additional clarity on where the breakdowns were and some additional ideas on what we could do to fix it. I want us to find a path forward. I don’t think this is just an LSU problem. It is happening in universities across the country.”