Oregon State puts F. King Alexander on probation for his role in LSU sexual misconduct scandal

The Oregon State University Board of Trustees decided after a nearly seven-hour meeting Wednesday to place President F. King Alexander on probation until June 1 for his role in the mishandling of sexual misconduct complaints while he was at the helm of Louisiana State University and the erosion of trust it has created.

The sanction falls short of numerous calls for Alexander’s termination, but it still makes him the fifth person to face accountability in connection with the failures at LSU.

During his probationary period, the board decided, Alexander must come up with an “action plan” outlining how he will rebuild the trust of campus. The board said it would then evaluate that plan and receive feedback from the community.

“Significant concerns have been raised about trust and commitment to OSU values from any aspects of the community,” trustee Michele Longo Eder said. “We need to find a way to see if it’s possible to address those going forward.”

OSU will also hire an outside consultant to review the recommendations of LSU’s Husch Blackwell report and help board members answer specific questions about the report and OSU’s own Title IX compliance.

LSU tapped outside law firm Husch Blackwell to conduct an independent review of its handling of sexual misconduct allegations in November after reporting by USA TODAY revealed systemic flaws. The law firm issued its findings in a 148-page report to LSU, which was publicly released March 5.

It found there was a “serious institutional failure” related to Title IX cases during the time when Alexander was president at LSU from July 2013 to last July 1.

Eder and Khawater Hussein, the sole student member of the board, were the only trustees to vote no on the board’s motion.

The decision was immediately criticized by Brenda Tracy, a gang-rape survivor and activist from Oregon who had testified before the board earlier in the day. 

“The Oregon State board of trustees have proven through their discussions today that they are completely & totally incapable of handling issues related to gendered violence,” she said on Twitter. “(Governor Kate Brown) we need to find another solution. This group is more harmful than helpful to survivors.”

During a four-hour public hearing ahead of the board’s executive session, Alexander pushed back against the findings. He blamed budget cuts and said any problems were beyond his control – a response that did not endear him to an OSU community that already found his hiring to be contentious.

OSU faculty, staff and students who testified in the public hearing nearly unanimously called for Alexander’s firing. Ahead of the meeting, 39 OSU student government members signed a letter to the Board calling for Alexander’s firing. Oregon state Rep. Sara Gelser and Louisiana state Rep. Aimee Adatto Freeman both called for his immediate termination.

“If Alexander knew about the cover up of rampant issues, and did not address them, he should resign or have his contract terminated,” the student government letter said. “If he served as president of the institution for 7 years and wasn’t aware of the issue, he is then most certainly part of the same system of indifference, inaction, negligence and non-accountability that allowed the abuse to occur in the first place.”

The board considered firing Alexander but decided it lacked the information to do so.

“Questions were raised about whether we had all of the pertinent information that we need to make a sound, well-informed judgment,” said trustee Paul Kelly, explaining the board’s thinking.

Many people at the hearing blasted the secret presidential search by the Board that led to Alexander’s hiring. People questioned whether the Board actually knew nothing about Alexander’s record on sexual misconduct at LSU, as the Board claimed.

“This is the most vile and preventable scandal that OSU has had during my time here, at least that I can recall,” OSU math instructor Dan Rockwell told the board during the hearing. “The board chose a process that kept candidates safe instead of choosing a process to keep employees, students and the community safe by being open and transparent.”

Also during the hearing, Tracy, the rape survivor, compared Alexander’s leadership to that of Ed Ray, the OSU president who preceded Alexander. 

When Tracy came forward publicly in 2014 with her account of the school’s mishandling of her rape by OSU football players in 1998, Ray apologized directly to her and invited her to the table to help address sexual misconduct at OSU. 

“How did we get here?” Tracy asked. “How did we go from a man willing to publicly apologize to me, to a man who is actively dodging responsibility and accountability for what may be the largest college sexual assault scandal we’ve ever seen in history?”

The board’s decision to punt comes a little over a week after the University of Kansas cut ties with head football coach Les Miles, who was accused in 2013 of texting female students, taking them to his condo alone, making them feel uncomfortable and, on at least one occasion, kissing a student and suggesting they go to a hotel after telling her he could help her career, according to an internal investigative report released by LSU on Thursday. Kansas athletic director Jeff Long, who said he wasn’t aware of the allegations when he hired Miles in 2018, also left the university.

Prior to that, LSU disciplined two athletic department employees found to have repeatedly mishandled sexual misconduct cases involving athletes: Executive Deputy Athletic Director Verge Ausberry and Senior Associate Athletic Director Miriam Segar. LSU Interim President Tom Galligan gave them unpaid suspensions of 30 and 21 days, respectively – punishments criticized by lawmakers and LSU students for being too lenient.

Read the story that started it all: LSU mishandled sexual misconduct complaints against students, including top athletes

While Alexander has said he bolstered LSU’s Title IX system, Husch Blackwell said it was built to fail. Reporting policies were unclear, training was an afterthought and the Title IX office – the creation of which Alexander has touted – was not adequately staffed nor given the necessary independence.

The report took particular note that Jennie Stewart, designated as the Title IX coordinator for the LSU system, was overloaded, tasked with doing four jobs at once. 

LSU’s decision to retain Miles, and ensuring the 2013 investigation of him remained buried, has also been a point of concern for the Oregon State community.

Another outside law firm, Taylor Porter, deemed Miles’ behavior with female students inappropriate after its investigation into the original investigations in 2013, and Miles was issued a letter of reprimand. Then-athletic director Joe Alleva, who had already prohibited Miles from being alone with female student workers, emailed Alexander on June 21, 2013, and urged that Miles be fired.

But Alexander said the board had already made its decision before he arrived on campus, and he could not overrule it – even though he said Miles was “not a good university citizen” and put LSU and students “at risk.” He also said he played no role in keeping the report on the investigation secret.

Miles was not fired until 2016, after LSU started the season 2-2. The 2013 investigation did not come to light until last month, after USA TODAY sued for a copy of the report.

Alexander said last week he wished LSU had acted sooner on Miles, and he was pressed by the Faculty Senate during a meeting on Monday on why that did not happen.

“There was not enough evidence to terminate Les Miles at that time,” Alexander said. “But when I learned about it, I wanted to keep an eye on Les and make sure if he has any other issues, then I’m going to bring him back to the board. We kept a close eye on that issue.

“I always thought he was a risk to the university,” Alexander added. “But, once again, the board, it was the board that made that decision on May 15.”

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