Sexual Harassment Policies Questioned: University President Suspended

Ralph Slaughter put on hold amidst questions about sexual harassment policies. Southern University, the nation’s largest historically black university system, suspended its president with pay Saturday through July 5 and ordered him to cooperate with an investigation into the way sexual harassment charges against a fellow administrator were handled, reports the Associated Press.

Scott Dyer writes for in Diverse Education

Southern University System President Ralph Slaughter has been suspended for two months by his governing board while an internal investigation is conducted into his claims that the board chairman sexually harassed female employees. Slaughter has come under criticism in recent weeks for making the allegations public. Slaughter claims that he was acting as a whistleblower to protect the alleged victims of the harassment.

After meeting for several hours in executive session May 5, the Southern Board decided to place Slaughter on paid leave and ordered him to cooperate with an internal investigation into allegations that Board Chairman Johnny Anderson offered pay raises and promotions to female employees and students in exchange for sex.

Anderson last month voluntarily surrendered his chairmanship, and is recusing himself from board deliberations involving the alleged harassment. Anderson, who also serves as assistant chief of staff for Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, has repeatedly denied any improprieties, and claims Slaughter is trying to smear him.

At the special meeting, the board ordered Slaughter to turn over all documents related to the allegations of sexual harassment to the Southern University Human Resources Director Lester Pourciau, and to cooperate fully in the investigation. Mark Falcon, an attorney appointed by the governor to investigate the allegations, complained in an April 13 report to the board that he couldn’t reach any conclusions because Slaughter had refused to release information about the complaints. Slaughter said Falcon never produced a letter of authority from the governor, despite repeated requests.

In a letter to the governor, Slaughter’s attorney, Jill Craft, indicated that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office both produced letters of authority to obtain information about Anderson’s alleged sexual harassment for an ongoing federal grand jury investigation that began late last year.

Craft said the president was trying to protect the privacy of the victims.

“Dr. Slaughter has done nothing but stand up for the victims, insist they be afforded protection, cooperate fully with a Federal Grand Jury, and do what is right. For that, Dr. Slaughter has become the target,” Craft said in her letter.

A source close to that investigation said the grand jury is looking at complaints from at least eight female employees that Anderson offered them pay raises or promotions in exchange for sex. The grand jury is also looking at several female employees who were promoted during the time of Anderson’s alleged harassment, the source said.

During the May 5 board meeting, several Southern University alumni wore stickers that said, “We’ve had enough” to indicate their dissatisfaction with the way Slaughter handled the allegations against Anderson.

Former Southern University National Alumni President Donald Wade said Slaughter should never have written a letter to Louisiana state Sen. Charles Jones, D-Monroe, to ask that the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee investigate Anderson’s alleged sexual harassment.

“It was an end run around the board to go to Charles Jones,” Wade said, noting that letter made public the sensitive allegations.

Wade pointed out that Jones is related to Slaughter’s wife.

In an interview May 5, Slaughter denied that he wrote the letter because Jones is a relative by marriage.

Slaughter said when he first learned of the complaints against Anderson last summer, he told several board members about it. The board members refused to do anything, and Slaughter said he didn’t feel comfortable going to the governor because Anderson works for her. He said he decided to go to the legislative branch, and the proper committee to handle such issues is the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is chaired by Jones.

Slaughter said he’s concerned that up until now, the board has appeared more interested in covering up the allegation against Anderson than investigating them.

Meanwhile, at least one of the 12 board members said he’s ready to fire Slaughter. Board member John Joseph of Opelousas, who voted against the two-month paid suspension, said Slaughter should be fired for the way he’s handled the sexual harassment allegations against Anderson.

Anderson’s attorney claims the letter to Jones was part of a plot by Slaughter to “disparage the good name of Johnny Anderson” and to defeat his re-election as board chairman.”

The board appointed Southern University at Baton Rouge Chancellor Edward Jackson as interim system president while Slaughter is suspended. Executive Vice Chancellor Margaret Ambrose will serve as interim chancellor for the Baton Rouge campus.