Louisiana colleges fail to meet harassment training mandate
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s public colleges are not meeting the requirements of a 2018 law aimed at combatting sexual harassment, with thousands of campus workers not taking a mandatory yearly anti-harassment course.
Only about two-thirds of the workers on Southern University System campuses in 2020 took the required one-hour training course on how to prevent sexual harassment, according to documents filed with the state Division of Administration. Across the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, two in 10 employees did not meet the requirement last year.
Though the law requires reports to be filed by mid-February, most campuses from the Louisiana State University System did not submit on time the documents outlining the number of sexual harassment allegations received over the last year and the employee training compliance. Several LSU campuses filed reports this week, though others remained missing Wednesday. Those filed showed some campuses fell far short on the training mandate.
Louisiana lawmakers passed the state’s first government-wide policy against sexual harassment three years ago. Female legislators pushed the effort after the secretary of state and a top aide to Gov. John Bel Edwards resigned because of sexual misconduct allegations.
The law requires state and local government agencies to enact anti-sexual-harassment policies that include a process for handling complaints, a ban against retaliation when someone files a complaint and mandatory prevention training each year.
Agency heads have to compile annual reports documenting the number of employees who completed the training requirements, the number of sexual harassment complaints received over the last year and the number of complaints that resulted in disciplinary action. Reports from cabinet agencies, statewide elected officials’ departments and higher education are submitted to the governor’s Division of Administration.
Republican Sen. Sharon Hewitt, chair of the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, plans a hearing to review the reports covering the first two years of the new requirements. She wants to look at agencies where training compliance is lower or harassment complaints are higher.
“The point of the statistics is to get a gauge of the level of incidences that are being reported, the compliance on training, how responsive agencies are,” Hewitt said.
Among the outliers are Louisiana’s higher education systems.
LSU has campuses in five cities. But only its main campus in Baton Rouge — which faces an outside review looking into claims university officials mishandled sexual misconduct allegations — submitted the required document by the law’s deadline, according to the Division of Administration.
Incomplete reports from the system filed after the deadline showed only about six in 10 workers completed the sexual harassment prevention training last year at LSU’s Shreveport and Alexandria campuses.
LSU spokesperson Ernie Ballard said Wednesday that campuses completed the required reports on time, but the documents were not properly forwarded. He said all reports were turned in by Tuesday night. The Division of Administration disagreed.
Louisiana’s three other colleges systems reported full information for their campuses on time, but those reports showed varying levels of compliance with the law’s training mandate.
Only 61% of employees on Southern University’s Shreveport campus and two-thirds of workers at the system’s main office and Baton Rouge campus completed the training.
Southern spokesperson Janene Tate said the system is working to improve campus participation in the anti-harassment training, but she noted campuses “have achieved an increase in participation when compared to the previous year.”
Some higher education officials described difficulties reaching graduate assistants and part-time faculty and raised questions about whether student workers were required to take the training course. Others talked about disruptions because of the coronavirus pandemic. Reporting was not uniform across college campuses or systems.
“I’ve spoken with all of our (campus) presidents. The expectation is 100% compliance,” University of Louisiana System President Jim Henderson said. “The expectation is that anybody who missed it last year will complete it by March of this year.”
Among the UL System’s nine campuses, Southeastern Louisiana University reported 89% of its staff had finished the sexual harassment prevention training, but only 69% of its graduate assistants and student workers. Louisiana Tech University said it had an 88% staff completion rate.
Henderson said system leadership will create a uniform reporting mechanism for campuses so they have common information about who should be trained and how to report that training.
The Louisiana Community and Technical College System said 80% of its 4,450 employees completed the mandated training. Spokesperson Quintin Taylor said the system may need to consider including the harassment prevention training in an employee’s annual evaluation or some other method to further stress the requirement.
“Just like any law, we are all expected to follow it, and our people are no different,” Taylor said. “It’s something that we’ll continue to prioritize and try to get to as close as 100% compliant as possible.”