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Analyzing the Husch Blackwell Report - Part One

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We start with the boring important part: Institutional Failures

Baton Rouge Louisiana LSU Louisiana State University famous Memorial Tower at LSU
Ugh. Just... ugh.
Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Husch Blackwell Title IX report is a daunting document. It’s 262 pages, though only 150 pages of that is the nine-part factual and legal analysis. Attached to the end are fourteen different exhibits. It’s a comprehensive documentation of multiple failures at nearly every level at LSU.

While this is exactly the sort of public accounting LSU needs, it makes the whole thing a difficult read. The more popular part is a review of the USA Today case files, but the report is about more than that: it’s about boring things like the failure of policies and procedures lead to more fundamental breakdowns.

So in an effort to help, I’m breaking down the report for you. I’m reading this so you don’t have to, though I will try to quote the report as often as I can. I’ll throw in my two cents, but I want you to be able to draw your own conclusions, too.

Let’s start with the topline summary:

Regarding the three questions mentioned above, we offer the following summary responses:

1. The University did not handle various items identified in the USA Today article in a manner consistent with obligations under Title IX, widely recognized best practices, and/or University policy. The basis for this opinion is explained in Section VI below.

2. Various incidents of athletics-related misconduct have not been appropriately reported to the University’s Title IX Coordinator. We are especially concerned about a lack of reporting prior to November 2016 for reasons discussed below. It is worth noting, though, that our concerns about reporting are not limited to Athletics. Institutional reporting policy and training have been unclear for years. This is discussed more thoroughly in Section III below.

3. The University’s Title IX Office has never been appropriately staffed or provided with the independence and resources to carry out Title IX’s mandates. We have identified concerns that the Office has at times not handled those matters reported to it appropriately. Again, while the USA Today article focused primarily on Athletics, we found deficiencies in a variety of different matters. This is discussed in more detail in Section II below.

I think this gets into one of the themes of the report: LSU Athletics had a problem with Title IX compliance, but it was a symptom of a larger failure as a university. This isn’t an instance of a school changing its rules to protect its profitable football program, this was a school that failed to protect women from sexual assault anywhere on campus and institutionally failed to comply with the edicts of Title IX on a fundamental school-wide level.

To be honest, this isn’t the story that outsiders want to tell. IT’s easier to tell the story of the out-of-control football program or a school which has sold its soul for more wins in athletics. And in a way, that would make those of us who went to LSU feel better. Blame the culture of athletics.

But that ain’t the truth. The problem is LSU itself. The failures are system wide and in every department. LSU didn’t fail to protect women because they were trying to win a few more games, they failed to protect women from sexual assault in discrimination because they didn’t care enough to try.

As noted throughout this report, there was a lack of effective leadership at the University with respect to Title IX. In concluding this, we are mindful of the enormous challenges placed on the University’s administration by seemingly incessant budget cuts foisted upon it over the years. While expectations for higher education have increased over the last 20 years in fairly remarkable ways (especially around compliance), resources have certainly not kept pace, especially in Louisiana. With that said, the University was slow to adopt Title IX policies, hire personnel, or meaningfully address concerns identified by community members and internal and external reviews.

Just… ugh.

While we can lay some of the blame for this on budget cuts, LSU was not exactly leading the way on Title IX. After the “Dear Colleague” Letter of 2011 changed the nature of Title IX compliance, LSU was slow to make changes.

LSU didn’t hire a Title IX Coordinator, as required, until 2013, and even then, Jim Marchand filled the role as an “other duties assigned” role. As Husch Blackwell points out, aside from the problem of not hiring a full-time coordinator, Marchand had the additional issue of major conflicts of interest with his full-time duties as deputy general counsel.

Any and all problems started right at the very top. Marchand filled this role until February 2016 when LSU hired Jennie Stewart to three different jobs: Title IX Coordinator for the whole LSU system, Baton Rouge campus coordinator, and Clery Coordinator for the entire LSU system.

Five years after the Dear Colleague Letter, and LSU finally made a half-assed move to comply. She describes a system that is almost laughably designed to fail:

She reported that she did not have supervisory authority over other campus coordinators, but they reported Title IX information to her and she was tasked with regularly advising and supporting each of the campuses on Title IX’s requirements and complaint resolution. Stewart described the System’s Title IX operations up until 2018 as having “no central investigative piece”—with at one time 42 different investigators with varying degrees of training over the nine campuses. These investigators were campus staff and faculty members who performed investigative responsibilities on an “other duties as assigned” basis.

In 2018, LSU finally hired Jeff Scott as “Lead Title IX Investigator,” again, for the whole LSU system. It also further undercut Stewart by adding ADA Coordinator to her job description, a full-time job at most single campuses. At LSU, it was just one job she held systemwide.

The entire LSU Title IX Office, for nine campuses, is Stewart, Scott, and one graduate assistant. They don’t even have a secretary.

This is what I mean when I say this isn’t really a football story. Look at that Title IX office and tell me how they are supposed to comply with anything. This is outrageous. People are protesting about firing people are missing the point: LSU needs to hire people. The problem is that there is no one there to enforce Title IX compliance. Almost literally.

Having only two full-time employees in the Title IX office would inevitably lead to issues in investigations, but it also created problems on the front end on reporting requirements. The 2014 Guidance on reporting cited by Husch Blackwell states that…

A responsible employee must report to the school’s Title IX coordinator, or other appropriate school designee, all relevant details about the alleged sexual violence that the student or another person has shared…

A school must make clear to its responsible employees to whom they should report an incident of alleged sexual violence.

However, even if the employee may not have the responsibility to report directly to the Title IX Coordinator, instead relying on university policy to an appropriate designee, the Coordinator still “must be informed of all reports and complaints raising Title IX issues, even if the report or complaint was initially filed with another individual or office or if the investigation will be conducted by another individual or office.”

And this is where we get into problems with definitions. Who is a responsible employee? Who is an appropriate school designee? This is why there is a need for a clear Title IX policy and well-understood procedures. This didn’t happen. There were no definitions or any clear procedures.

This could have been cleared up through quality training but the training materials were as clear as mud. That’s the bad news. The good news is that LSU had been doing better, as the report noted there was a noted uptick in the quality of training materials since December 2020. The report specifically cites Lighthouse Advocate Training and the Football Recruiting and Alumni Student Employee training materials.

And here, the report starts to drill down specifically to the problems with athletics. Athletics did its own Title IX Training and Miriam Segar, the Senior Associate AD was the person responsible. Which presented its own problem:

While many interviewees believed Segar was the “Athletics Title IX Coordinator,” she has never been officially delegated those responsibilities. Stewart was clear that it was her preference to present training directly to Athletics staff and student-athletes, but that her efforts on this front had been rebuffed until Scott Woodward became Athletics Director in April 2019.

I mean, the people in Athletics didn’t even know that Segar as NOT the Title IX Coordinator, which is a pretty massive failure. LSU hired Dan Beebe to conduct its Title IX training, which just sounds like a bad idea on its face. And it was.

It’s an open question of whether the trainers gave out downright incorrect information because they were never informed of LSU’s policy, they were misled by LSU, or that they didn’t take the time to do the proper research. None of those answers are any good. It led directly to this:

When asked whether Athletics employees were aware of an obligation to report sex discrimination directly to the Title IX Coordinator, Segar stated, “I think staff were told to notify me for reporting purposes.” She emphasized that it was “never presented that I would investigate or adjudicate . . . but the impression was definitely, tell me so I can handle it.” Segar clarified that the mandate for all employees to report directly to the Title IX Coordinator has been made clear since Scott Woodward became Athletics Director in 2019, and that when she receives reports or information implicating a Title IX-related incident now, she assists the student or employee with placing a report directly to the Title IX Coordinator.

In addition to having its own training, beginning in 2013, the University Athletics Department under former Athletics Director Joe Alleva promulgated a series of departmental policies which did little to stem any confusion and instead likely compounded it.

Those are not the sort of quotes you want to see from the person in charge of Title IX training in the Athletics department. Again, it was a system designed to fail. People did not know their responsibilities, but even if they were acting in good faith, probably thought they could report violations to Miriam Segar and be in compliance with Title IX. Heck, they might have even thought she would do something about it.

What would give people this idea? Even after Stewart was hired as the Title IX Coordinator, Joe Alleva was informing Athletics staff to report to the wrong people. His June 8, 2016 email gets it wrong:

Instead, you are required to report all potential issues so that they are properly addressed by trained university officials. Please report these issues to either Miriam Segar, Sr. Associate Athletics Director Student Services or Wendy Nall, Assistant Athletics Director HR. Both of these individuals have been trained in Title IX law and university protocol for investigation and can help facilitate the proper reporting that is required by law and University policy.

What are you supposed to say now? Oops? Alleva asserted that the Title IX office knew of this policy when they weren’t copied on the email and had no knowledge of it. Hey, maybe he oly messed it up once.

Nope. He reiterated this reporting policy in 2018 which also further told Athletics personnel NOT to report to the Title IX Coordinator, but to Segar instead. This wasn’t a one-time oversight.

In Segar’s defense, she states that she reported everything to the Title IX Office, and there’s no evidence that she didn’t. She also makes a good point: “My name is on all the reports submitted to Title IX from Athletics—no one [from Title IX] ever questioned the practice.”

Again, the report notes that the policies and procedures improved upon Scott Woodward taking over as the Athletic Director in 2019.

Again, the problem was not limited to Athletics:

For what it is worth, Athletics is not the only department in the University which had its own separate reporting policy or practice. While we did not canvas the entire University for policies and communications along these lines, several participants in our community interview sessions noted that similar edicts were issued by their supervisors across the institution.

No one complied with Title IX at LSU, not just Athletics. That doesn’t make it better, it makes it worse.

The worst is that the report then details just how obviously aware of the issues LSU was. Multiple third parties – the LSU community, the Dan Beebe Group, a specially formed task force, multiple independent audits, and even NASA all detailed just how woefully insufficient LSU’s Title IX reporting was.

For me, the worst is Stewart’s audit of the department upon taking the job as Title IX Coordinator in 2016. She called the current model “non-sustainable” and showed just how few resources LSU dedicated to Title IX in comparison to other schools.

LSU knew and Stewart was given a pat on the head, a few encouraging words, and nothing else. None of her proposals were implemented. Now, here we are, five years later with a massive Title IX scandal. How could this have possibly happened? We all know how.

LSU knew the issues, and it chose, willingly, to do nothing. This scandal is a direct result of LSU’s willful neglect.

The second half of the report deals with Athletics, but primarily with the allegations of The USA Today article. This is the headline grabbing stuff, but ultimately, it’s not as important as the first half of the report. This seemingly boring stuff is the detail of a gross failure by the university.

It’s one thing to fail when you’re trying, but it looks like LSU wasn’t even trying to comply with Title IX. These are massive institutional failings and it is nothing short of scandalous.

We will get into the individual case files in Part Two and start sorting out some personal blame. I know people want a person to blame and for heads to roll, but… the truth is, the problem is at an institutional level. The solution to the issues is to actually hire people and invest more. Firing people satisfies our bloodlust, but I’m not sure it actually does anything to help.

There’s also the problem that almost every issue detailed is from a prior administration. LSU has since changed its football coach, its Athletic Director, and its University President. You want the heads to roll? Well, they are all already gone. Do you want to fire the new people (and LSU doesn’t even have a new president) just to say you did?

The question for LSU is whether they want to actually fix institutional issues or make positive PR decisions? Firing people certainly would generate friendly headlines, but it wouldn’t likely do anything to genuinely help anybody. It’s far more important that LSU implements the report’s recommendations and actually funds and properly staffs its Title IX Office.

I would rather LSU focus on these fundamental issues and these long, boring solutions. But we know the media isn’t designed to care about things like that. We’ll get into what they do care about in Part Two. And go searching for people to blame.