Louisiana’s next commissioner of higher education likely will be named this week, after the state Board of Regents and other higher education leaders get a chance to vet three finalists for the job.
None of the three has emerged as a clear frontrunner for the nearly $350,000-a-year position. Their backgrounds are diverse: a community college president from Rhode Island, an academic affairs leader from Texas and the president of a college in West Virginia.
For any of them, the job would mean more responsibility: Louisiana’s higher education commissioner oversees implementation of state-level policies, as well as coordination between Louisiana’s college and university systems, which means 38 institutions, a $2.6 billion budget and more than 217,000 students.
Regents Chairman Clinton “Bubba” Rasberry said he is confident that each of the three under consideration — West Liberty University President Robin Capehart, Community College of Rhode Island President Raymond Di Pasquale and Joseph Rallo, vice chancellor for academic affairs at the Texas Tech University System — has the “level of experience, leadership skills and demonstrated success that are essential to lead higher education in this state.”
Uma Subramanian, the deputy commissioner for legal and external affairs, said the schedule had not formally been set as of Friday, but the candidates are expected to hold meetings with various stakeholders — students, administrators, faculty — on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Before the board makes a final decision on Thursday, there will be an opportunity for the public to hear from, and ask questions of, each candidate.
“It will probably be about half an hour each,” Subramanian said.
At least 25 people expressed interest in the job or were nominated for it, and the state spent about $8,000 on discussions with five people who were interested in the job.
The three finalists are the only candidates who have been identified.
Rallo, the No. 2 administrator of the Texas Tech System, told The Advocate that he sees the job here as a “wonderful opportunity.”
“It’s an interesting time for higher education and the state of Louisiana,” he said.
He took on the vice chancellor’s role in 2012 after serving as president of Angelo State University, a school in the Texas Tech System.
He said he thinks the Louisiana commissioner job would be a logical next step.
According to his résumé, Rallo speaks French and Italian. He is a retired Air Force colonel and has been invited to make presentations across the world on diversity and business issues.
When he took on the vice chancellor’s role in 2012 after five years at Angelo State, the Lubbock Avalanche Journal wrote that he referred to the promotion as an “opportunity of a lifetime.”
Rallo has doctoral and master’s degrees from Syracuse University, a law degree from Western New England University and a bachelor’s degree from Lafayette College.
According to local reports, George Couch, who chairs West Liberty’s Board of Governors, released a statement praising Capehart and the university’s “great success” during his tenure after news broke that he was being considered for the Louisiana job.
“We understand why other organizations would express interest in a leader of his caliber,” Couch said, according to The State Journal, of Charleston, West Virginia.
In a recent article with the Times West Virginian, Capehart discussed the difficulty of attracting students to state schools there.
Capehart couldn’t be reached for comment, but his résumé and reports on him over the years provide some insight into his interests.
An expert in tax law with an apparent affinity for movies, Capehart previously served as tax and revenue secretary for the governor of West Virginia.
In 2004, Capehart unsuccessfully ran for governor as a Republican, and he has served as chairman of the state GOP.
A 2011 column in the Charleston Gazette noted his interest in movie-making, and an article in the now-defunct Republican Gazette in 2007 said Capehart had “dined with Geraldo Rivera, golfed with famous athletes and enjoyed many other brushes with history.”
Deep in his résumé, among the honors and academic experience, Capehart includes that he appeared in the 2006 film “We Are Marshall.”
He has a master’s degree in taxation from Georgetown University, a doctorate from West Virginia University and a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University.
Di Pasquale also could not be reached for comment, but he recently spoke with the Rhode Island-based Warwick Beacon about seeking the post in Louisiana.
“This is a large system and very different than what I’m doing. I have got to look at it professionally,” he said.
A Di Pasquale hire would mean a coincidental switch-up between Rhode Island and Louisiana.
Di Pasquale served as acting higher education commissioner in Rhode Island from 2010 until the recent hire of Jim Purcell, Louisiana’s former higher education commissioner, whom the Regents are trying to replace.
Last year, he came under fire when it was revealed that he was the highest paid community college president in the country, with a compensation package totaling about $370,000, according to the GoLocalProv news site.
WJAR news reported that the state left Di Pasquale’s salary at his dual-pay level after Purcell was hired as a gesture meant to keep Di Pasquale in his community college office.
Di Pasquale also has a background in politics. His résumé mentions time as a city councilman and county commissioner, and he told the Warwick Beacon that his experience in elected office was a consideration.
He has a master’s degree from Northeastern University in Boston and a bachelor’s degree from Arkansas Tech University.