One question raised by this morning’s report detailing allegations of stalking, sexual harassment and sexual assault that a former LSU graduate student lodged against her professor in the LSU AgCenter is why Husch Blackwell did not mention the case in its review of Title IX misdeeds at the university.
The national law firm was retained by LSU last November to investigate the institution’s mishandling of allegations of sexual misconduct, after a USA Today investigative report first shed light on the issue.
In early March, the firm presented to the LSU Board of Supervisors the findings of its report, which added disturbing new details to the cases that had already been cited by the newspaper. In the weeks since, LSU has found itself under a growing barrage of fire, as careers have ended, lawsuits have been filed, and lawmakers have convened hearings.
Still, as the case of the AgCenter researcher, an associate professor named Naranjan Baisakh, first detailed this morning by Daily Report, reveals, there’s a lot of information the Husch Blackwell report doesn’t begin to address.
Baisakh was investigated by the AgCenter’s internal Title IX office in late 2016, after one of his female graduate students filed a police report detailing two years of stalking, threats, and sexual assault. Sources familiar with the situation say the university’s central Title IX office was also involved in the investigation, as was LSUs general counsel.
The investigation found the report credible enough to discipline Baisakh by temporarily suspending his academic tenure, a procedure higher education experts say is unheard of, and banning him from working with graduate students. Yet three years later, his tenure was reinstated and he was again allowed to work directly with graduate assistants.
Even LSU, which has since suspended Baisakh temporarily, concedes the case is unusual and is looking into the specifics of it. Still, that doesn’t explain why if Husch Blackwell was retained to review LSU’s mishandling of Title IX complaints, its review didn’t catch the case of Baisakh? For that matter, how many other cases are out there?
Husch Blackwell did not return a call seeking comment.
But LSU Vice President for Strategic Communications Jim Sabourin says the scope of Husch Blackwell’s contract with LSU, which is capped at $100,000, was limited only to investigating the specific incidents that were previously mentioned in the USA Today piece and any other media reports that were immediately available.
“Our priority, because this needed a timely resolution, was to start with those cases that were reported in the media or that we were made aware of from survivors who came forward,’” Sabourin says. “This was not meant to be an exhaustive look at every Title IX case.”
Specifically, language in the contract between LSU and Husch Blackwell calls for the law firm to provide the university with “an independent review of the handling of specific Title IX cases for compliance with federal regulations; an evaluation of employee compliance with Title IX training requirements, policies and procedures; engage campus stakeholders regarding the effectiveness of Title IX training; and recommendations regarding best practices.”
Still, if the Husch Blackwell report is not an exhaustive look at all Title IX complaints in the vault at LSU, how can stakeholders take at face value the university’s newfound promise to be fully transparent about all Title IX issues?
Sabourin says the Husch Blackwell report is a good first step and that additional investigations may result from it.
“That’s up for discussion at this point,” he says. “But there are no definite plans to do that because we think the patterns that were determined to have occurred were similar in several of the cases, so you have to assume that if they’re looking at this sample that it represents a larger sample.”
The developments come as state lawmakers are preparing for a third hearing Thursday of the Senate Select Committee on Women and Children. Several LSU athletics department officials were asked to appear before the committee but have since declined. The university has also reportedly prohibited other employees from testifying before the committee tomorrow, including athletics department executive Sharon Lewis, who was expected to file a $50 million lawsuit against the university today in connection with the Title IX scandal.