Ethics complaint against former Oregon State president will be dismissed

An ethics complaint against former Oregon State University President F. King Alexander will be automatically dismissed. (Frank Miller/Oregon State University)

Former Oregon State University President F. King Alexander won’t face any consequences for using university attorneys to respond to a probe into Louisiana State University’s handling of campus rape allegations during his tenure there. 

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission voted 3-2 Friday morning to dismiss a complaint against Alexander. The vote ultimately didn’t matter, however, because state law requires 5 votes in favor of any commission action. 

The complaint will be automatically dismissed on Thursday, 181 days after the commission agreed to begin an investigation.

In a preliminary report, commission staff had recommended that the group find that Alexander broke two state ethics laws by receiving help from OSU’s general counsel and vice president of marketing in responding to questions about his knowledge of LSU’s handling of sexual assault and domestic violence complaints. Federal law requires public university administrators to investigate sex crimes on campus. 

Alexander was LSU’s president from 2013 to 2019, before moving to OSU in July 2020. In November of 2020, a USA Today investigation revealed multiple university administrators were aware of rape and abuse allegations against star athletes and didn’t refer them to police or the university office in charge of investigating sex-based discrimination on campus, as required by federal law and university policies. Alexander was not implicated.

In early 2021, Texas-based law firm Husch Blackwell contacted Alexander and OSU general counsel Rebecca Gose as part of an external review of LSU’s policies. Commission staff found that Gose, Alexander and OSU vice president Steven Clark discussed Alexander’s written responses to questions from the law firm between February and early March, when the Husch Blackwell report on LSU’s policies was released.

Alexander’s private attorney, Portland-based employment lawyer Courtney Angeli, and OSU said Gose’s advice was solely to protect the university and that she wasn’t providing Alexander with free personal legal advice. As university president, anything he said or did would reflect on OSU, Gose told commission staff.

The staff report determined that Alexander had violated a state law prohibiting public officials from using their position for financial gain, because receiving legal advice from Gose saved him the cost of hiring a private attorney to respond to questions.

Records provided by Alexander’s attorney show that he first retained a Louisiana-based attorney on March 1, the same day he submitted his answers, and then hired Angeli almost two weeks later under scrutiny from the OSU Board of Trustees. He ultimately resigned effective April 1, negotiating a $670,000 severance package after nine months as OSU’s president.  

Joshua Nasbe, an assistant attorney general who signed off on the commission staff’s recommendation, told commissioners he could see arguments for both dismissing and proceeding with the case. A vote to accept the preliminary findings would have resulted in an additional hearing and an attempt to reach a settlement. 

“I think we’re in a range where a reasonable commission could sort of go either way on this one,” Nasbe said. 

Commissioner Shawn Lindsay, an attorney and former Republican state representative, moved to dismiss the complaint against Alexander, saying that if he were in Alexander’s shoes he would have done the same thing.

“I understand his position, trying to do nothing intentionally wrong here and in my opinion, trying to comply,” Lindsay said. 

Commissioner Amber Hollister, a Portland attorney, and board chair Daniel Mason, a Portland property manager, agreed with Lindsay’s assessment. 

But Commissioner Karly Edwards, who works as Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty’s chief of staff, said it was clear to her that Alexander violated the spirit of state ethics laws. The commission often handles missteps by sending educational letters instead of assessing fines, but that wouldn’t cut it in this case, she said. 

“A letter of education or something like that wouldn’t have done the job,” she said. “I think the staff has done its due diligence. That to me feels like the best way moving forward to exercise the goals of this commission.”

In the 3-2 vote, retired lobbyist and Commissioner Dave Fiskum joined Edwards in voting to act on the complaint.

A Senate panel was supposed to review two nominees in September, but the Senate suspended that meeting while dealing with redistricting. 

The commission on Friday also dismissed a complaint against members of the Oregon State Board of Nursing who went into a closed executive session to discuss disciplining a nurse without first citing the law that allowed them to leave a public meeting. The board changed its policies after learning about the complaint.

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