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'Furious' lawmakers slam LSU, call response to sexual misconduct report 'unacceptable'

Rep. Barbara Freiberg called the discipline a “slap on the hand.”

BATON ROUGE, La. — Female state lawmakers on Wednesday lambasted Louisiana State University's response to a scathing report about its handling of sexual misconduct complaints, calling the university's disciplinary decisions weak and insulting to students whose abuse allegations were mishandled.

The legislators singled out for blistering criticism LSU's decision to briefly suspend rather than fire two employees for years of botched responses to claims of sexual harassment, domestic violence and rape.

“I’m kind of just dumbfounded. I’m sad. I’m disgusted. I’m so disappointed in LSU, and I continue to be disappointed with the response that we’re getting right now,” said Rep. Paula Davis, a Baton Rouge Republican. “It’s just not enough.”

Rep. Barbara Freiberg, also a Baton Rouge Republican, called the discipline a “slap on the hand."

Franklinton Republican Sen. Beth Mizell, the Senate’s second-ranking leader, added: “I don’t think this is satisfactory at any level. The system is finding a way to protect the status quo."

The hearing involved the Senate Select Committee on Women and Children, but it drew female lawmakers from both the House and Senate and a few male lawmakers, too.

The meeting followed last week's release of a report from the law firm Husch Blackwell, hired by LSU to review its handling of sexual misconduct, harassment and discrimination complaints under federal Title IX laws. The lengthy report details inappropriate responses and too few resources dedicated to the task.

Kansas ousted football coach Les Miles after the report detailed allegations of inappropriate behavior with students during his tenure at LSU. But no one whose conduct was criticized by Husch Blackwell has been fired by LSU.

LSU suspended executive deputy athletic director Verge Ausberry for 30 days and senior associate athletic director Miriam Segar for 21 days, without pay. Both were ordered to undergo sexual violence training. The pair were singled out in the report for bungling responses to student's sexual assault allegations.

LSU interim System President Tom Galligan defended the penalties as fair, saying university policies for handling complaints were “very unclear" but would be less ambiguous going forward. He said the campus is creating a new office to handle misconduct complaints, will boost spending on the investigations and will follow the litany of other Husch Blackwell recommendations.

“Safety and sensitivity will be our hallmarks, and we will work to hold everybody accountable,” he said.

But those at Wednesday's hearing said accountability should start with administrators who mishandled students' previous claims.

New Orleans City Council President Helena Moreno, a former lawmaker who worked to toughen Louisiana's policies for handling campus sexual assault, said people who failed to protect students should be held responsible.

“You fire these individuals, and you clean house,” she said. “You clean house of all of those who are protecting the culture.”

Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, a New Orleans Democrat, told Galligan: “If you don't have consequences and strong consequences for the action, it doesn't serve as a deterrent."

LSU Board of Supervisors member Mary Werner said she was conflicted about whether the punishments for Ausberry and Segar were sufficient.

The university hired Husch Blackwell to conduct an independent review after reporting by USA Today scrutinized LSU's handling of sexual assault cases implicating two former football players.

Female former students who accused the two players of abuse spoke at Wednesday's hearing and described LSU officials trying to dissuade them from reporting or dismissing their claims outright. The testimony provoked tears and further outrage from lawmakers.

“We're furious,” said Sen. Regina Barrow, a Baton Rouge Democrat who chairs the committee. “All of this is just unacceptable.”

Davis said administrators should have generally understood when allegations should have been investigated and turned over to police for review.

“Where is the justice for the victims?” she asked.

As for the university response, Davis added: “I just think it's kind of bull."

Barrow and Peterson urged Galligan to reconsider the disciplinary decisions. Galligan gave no indication he intended to do so.

Rep. Aimee Adatto Freeman called the disciplinary response disheartening and said it wouldn't be enough to satisfy students. She said her daughter, a student at LSU, told her: “Everybody knows LSU's not going to do anything.”

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.