Southern Discomfort

Sexual harassment charges against university’s board chairman lead to suspensions for him and system’s president.
May 8, 2007

Allegations that Southern University’s board chairman sexually harassed university employees have sent the nation’s largest historically black college system into flux at the end of the academic year.

Southern’s Board of Supervisors has suspended the system president for two months with pay while an investigator looks into the allegations against the chairman and the way in which Ralph Slaughter, the president, handled information about the case.

Johnny G. Anderson, the board chair, and another board member have removed themselves from the panel during the investigation by the university’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission coordinator to avoid the appearance of influencing the process.

The Associated Press reported that some at Southern are upset at Slaughter for taking the matter outside of the university by sending a letter to State Sen. Charles Jones, who heads the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, in the fall. Critics say the president made the allegations public in an effort to oust Anderson.

Slaughter has admitted to not following the university system’s normal procedures for dealing with the accusations because he reports to Anderson, the accused, and because he could not adequately protect the privacy of employees who filed the complaints. The president has said that he didn’t want to go directly to Gov. Kathleen Blanco because Anderson reports to her both as chairman and also as the governor’s assistant chief of staff. Anderson has maintained his innocence.

A university spokeswoman did not respond to multiple calls for comment on Monday.

Meanwhile, faculty and students have had to adjust to new leadership during the investigations. The board appointed Southern’s Baton Rouge chancellor, Edward Jackson, as interim system president while Slaughter is suspended. An executive vice chancellor is taking Jackson’s place.

“We need to be taking care of business,” said Erma Borskey, president of Southern’s Faculty Senate and an assistant professor of social work. “The fact that we are having to deal with this type of situation seems to keep us stagnant or set us back. The faculty is ready to get this matter behind us. The board should make a decision so we can see what direction we are moving in.”

William Arp, vice president of the Faculty Senate and a professor of political science and justice studies, said there has been no panic among faculty members.

“The university isn’t placed under undo strain because of what happens in the top administration. Business is going on as usual,” Arp said. “There’s no void in terms of leadership and the ability to make decisions.”

Arp said he and other faculty members are taking a “wait and see” approach and not making public statements about the allegations. The full Senate hasn’t met to discuss the case.

Charles Clark, a spokesman at the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, said the group doesn’t want to comment directly about the Southern situation. He said boards, in general, need to have in place codes of conduct so that when allegations such as these are made, they are following procedure in naming a interim replacement and cooperating with investigations.

“The board should be one voice; it would be unwise for members to speak out as individuals,” Clark added.

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