A Louisiana State University officials in charge of disciplining students for Title IX violations related to, among other things, sexual assault, domestic abuse and stalking, has been accused of meting out the lightest possible punishments, no matter how serious the crimes.
Jonathan Sanders, LSU’s Associate Dean of Students and Director of Student Advocacy and Accountability, has come under scrutiny after the law firm Husch Blackwell released a blistering 148-page report earlier this month, detailing how the university has handled sexual misconduct complaints.
Extensive reporting by USA Today, which spurned LSU in November to hire the law firm to conduct an independent $100,000 audit of its handling of Title IX complaints, has found that in nearly 60 per cent of the cases referred to Sanders since 2017, he took disciplinary actions that allowed violators to continue their coursework uninterrupted, instead of suspending or expelling them.
Jonathan Sanders, LSU’s Director of Student Advocacy and Accountability, is under scrutiny over light sanctions given to Title IX offenders, including sex abusers, harassers and stalkers
The law firm Husch Blackwell released a scathing 148-page report earlier this month, criticizing LSU’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints
Of the 46 Title IX offenders facing allegations of rape, stalking, sexual assault and domestic violence who came before Sanders over the past four school years, only one was kicked out of LSU.
The sole student to be expelled on Sanders’ watch was former LSU wide receiver Drake Davis, who in 2019 pleaded guilty to two counts of battery on a dating partner for beating his tennis player girlfriend Jade Lewis.
Davis was expelled from LSU 10 months after he had withdrawn from the university – and four months after being convicted in state court.
Several victims of abuse or misconduct have accused Sanders of exacerbating their trauma by questioning the veracity of their claims – asking one student what she was wearing the night she was raped while unconscious – and disciplining another for minor housing violations, such as having a candle or a bottle of wine on campus.
After the release of the scathing report, LSU suspended executive deputy athletic director Verge Ausberry 30 days and senior associate athletic director Miriam Segar 21 days without pay, and ordered both to undergo sexual violence training for their handling of complaints, but Sanders escaped punishment.
Of the 46 Title IX offenders who came before Sanders over the past four school years, only one was kicked out of LSU: former wide receiver Drake Davis, who was convicted in 2019 of battery on his tennis player girlfriend
Sanders defended his record at LSU, telling USA Today through a spokesperson that the punishments he dolled out to sexual offenders were harsher than those of his predecessor. He also questioned some of the findings in the report, accusing investigators of making errors in some cases and taking his words out of context.
Interim President Tom Galligan said during an LSU Board of Supervisors meeting two weeks ago that he sought to be fair in issuing discipline. Galligan stressed that the independent report concluded that failures in responding to sexual misconduct complaints at LSU stemmed largely from ambiguous policies and a lack of resources for ‘overburdened’ employees tasked with handling such matters.
When asked by USA Today later to comment on Sanders’ future at LSU, where he has worked in various capacities since 2006, in light of the excoriating report, Galligan replied: ‘we will review that.’
The news outlet reported that under Sanders, 18 students have received suspensions, 14 have been put on probation, a further 11 have been handed deferred suspensions, and an additional two have gotten off with warnings, likely allowing them to continue attending their classes.
Sanders told Husch Blackwell investigators that at LSU, sanctions are meted out according to an ‘Outcomes Guide,’ which provides a range of disciplinary outcomes.
The report noted that unlike at other comparable academic institutions, which outline potential sanctions for sexual misconduct based on the severity of the alleged conduct and other factors, such as the offender’s acknowledgement of responsibility and the victim’s wishes, LSA’s sanctions rubric recommends discipline according to the number of violations.
LSU student Elizabeth Andries, who was groped on a bus by a fraternity member, called Sanders’ sanctions against her abuser ‘worthless’ after the man was slapped with a deferred suspension and allowed to continue attending classes
For first violations of the majority of offenses, including sexual misconduct, harassment and stalking, the minimum sanction was probation or a deferred suspension, according to LSU’s 2020-21 Outcomes Guide.
In at least one instance, Sanders chose a punishment lighter than what the university’s own sanctions rubric called for when he slapped a fraternity member found responsible for two violations of the sexual misconduct policy for groping two female students on a bus with a deferred suspension, and allowed him to continue with his coursework.
The victims of the October 2016 assault, who publicly identified themselves as Caroline Schroeder and Elizabeth Andries, were outraged by Sanders’ sanctions, with Schroeder slamming them as ‘worthless.’
Andries expressed her frustration with Sanders in an interview with Husch Blackwell.
‘He . . . makes you go through the whole report again and tries to find . . . inaccuracies or something. I don’t know what the point of him was,’ she was quoted in the report as saying. ‘He was like, “so at one time you said you were in the back of the bus and in the other time you said you were in the middle back, so which one was it?” And I was, like, I don’t think that matters.’
Andries also said that in the course of her conversation with Sanders, he asked her if she was on drugs at the time of the assault.
Interim President Tom Galligan offered public apologies to victims and said he intends to strengthen how the university handles sexual misconduct complaints
‘And I was like, would it have mattered at this point? And he was just like, well, I find it hard to believe that, you were on a public bus with people,’ she recounted. ‘And I was like, well, me too.’
The woman also claimed that she shared with Sanders that a friend of hers also had been assaulted by the same fraternity member, but the administrator allegedly never contacted that woman – a claim Sanders denied to USA Today.
Husch Blackwell said in the report that, based on LSU’s Outcomes Guide, Sanders should have at least suspended the fraternity member because he’d been found responsible for two separate sexual misconduct violations.
The exhaustive report also highlighted Sanders’ response to the Drake Davis case, finding it ‘too passive.’
It criticized the LSU official for charging Lewis, the victim of Davis’ beatings, with housing rules violations related to the presence of a candle and wine in her on-campus apartment.
Sanders told Husch Blackwell that holding Lewis responsible for violating Residential Life policies was a way of trying ‘to engage’ with her, ‘to try and address the behavior with Drake.’ Husch Blackwell slammed this approach as ‘misguided.’
The report stated: ‘disciplining a victim of dating violence for having a candle in her room—which was discovered through an investigation into a report of dating violence—sends a troubling message to victims of abuse and misconduct which does not encourage reporting to the University.’
Attorney Scott Schneider, who led the Husch Blackwell review, said that while LSU does not have a monopoly on mishandling sexual misconduct cases, the university ‘has been very slow to develop policies and infrastructure and personnel that was really required’ to ensure compliance with federal Title IX laws. Those laws deal broadly with gender equity in education and also apply to instances of sexual violence or harassment at educational institutions.
Interim President Galligan offered public apologies to victims and said he intends to act on all 18 recommendations in the report on how to strengthen how the university handles sexual misconduct complaints campus-wide. Those recommendations called for everything from clarification of policies and protocols to increases in staffing and departmental reorganizations.