Former Oregon State University president accused of violating Oregon law

Oregon Government Ethics Commission investigators found he violated laws on financial gain and conflict of interest

By: - October 21, 2021 6:03 pm

Former Oregon State University President F. King Alexander appears to have violated Oregon law, state ethics officials determined. Photo by Frank Miller, OSU.

Former Oregon State University president F. King Alexander, who resigned just nine months into his tenure over revelations that Louisiana State University’s athletics department systematically covered up sexual misconduct allegations under his watch, also appears to have violated Oregon law.

Alexander used OSU lawyers to respond to investigators in Louisiana, according to an Oregon Government Ethics Commission report.

Commission staff recommended that it find that Alexander violated two state statutes related to good governance. The commission will make a final decision during a hearing Friday. 

“The evidence is sufficient to make a preliminary finding of one violation each of the conflict of interest and prohibited use of office provisions of Oregon Government Ethics law,” the commission’s investigators wrote in a preliminary report. 

State law prohibits public officials from using their position for financial gain. By receiving legal advice from a university attorney, he saved himself the cost of hiring a lawyer to respond to Louisiana investigators, thus violating the law, commission staff wrote. 

A separate statute requires public officials to disclose conflicts of interest, which commission staff determined Alexander failed to do. 

Alexander was president of Louisiana State University from 2013 to 2019 and became president at OSU in mid-2020.

In November 2020, USA Today published an extensive investigation into Louisiana State University’s handling of rape and abuse allegations against star athletes while he was there, finding that multiple high-ranking officials knew about the allegations but failed to follow federal laws that require administrators to contact law enforcement and investigate sex crimes on campus under Title IX. The federal law guarantees freedom from sex-based discrimination in education, and that extends to protecting state university students who face sexual harassment or other sexual misconduct.

Alexander was not named in the initial reporting, but he was contacted in early 2021 by a Texas-based law firm that LSU retained to review the university’s policies. 

In mid-February, OSU general counsel Rebecca Gose responded to the Texas firm, Husch Blackwell, and her counterpart at LSU, the report showed. 

Gose told ethics commission investigators her job includes proactively preventing negative media or legal liability for the university. Any comments Alexander made would automatically be considered public statements on the university’s behalf, she said.

Gose wouldn’t directly answer questions about whether Alexander asked her for legal advice in responding to the investigation, investigators wrote. Instead, Gose said she and Steve Clark, the university vice president in charge of marketing, wanted to help Alexander “set a tone” that would reflect well on the university. 

Clark told investigators he gave Alexander advice and made recommendations on his written answers to Husch Blackwell, using the “track changes” feature on a document. The university’s attorney declined to provide those documents in response to a subpoena from the commission, citing attorney-client privilege. 

Gose said she reminded Alexander that she reported to the university’s Board of Trustees, not him, and advised him several times to find a private attorney. He eventually did in March, after responding to Husch Blackwell.

Newspaper article triggers inquiry

The ethics commission investigation stemmed from a March 22 USA Today article that mentioned OSU’s general counsel responding to Husch Blackwell on Alexander’s behalf. The person who contacted the commission questioned whether Alexander behaved unethically by using “presumably free legal counsel from an OSU public employee (the general counsel) concerning a private matter.” 

Alexander refused an interview with the investigators. His attorney, Portland-based employment lawyer Courtney Angeli, told investigators she began representing him on March 13, taking over from a Baton Rouge attorney who represented him beginning on March 1. He had also employed a Kentucky-based attorney since 2005, though it was unclear to investigators whether that attorney offered any advice in the LSU case. 

“In other words, Dr. Alexander had personal counsel on this matter separate and apart from communications he had with Ms. Gose,” Angeli wrote. 

Angeli acknowledged that Alexander discussed the tone and substance of his responses to questions with Gose, but said he believed her advice was intended to protect the university’s interests. All of their conversations are subject to attorney-client privilege that could only be waived by the university itself, she wrote. 

She denied that Alexander communicated at all with Clark about his responses, even though Clark and Gose both said that Alexander had talked to them. 

Husch Blackwell declined to give the ethics investigators any documents without permission from LSU, but the firm did confirm that every document it had was sent from an OSU email address.

Alexander resigned effective April 1, a week after the university board of trustees placed him on probation. He negotiated a $670,000 severance — one full year’s salary and a $40,000 relocation allowance.

The OSU Board of Trustees decided earlier this month to hire Alexander’s replacement next spring. Becky Johnson, a university vice president who led the OSU-Cascades campus, has served as interim president since April.

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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.

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