LSU Provost Stuart Bell leaving to be Alabama's new president _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- Provost Stuart Bell answers questions from the LSU Faculty Senate during a meeting on campus on Sept. 5, 2012.

LSU will soon set out on a national search for a new academic leader, following an announcement Tuesday that executive vice president and provost Stuart Bell is being recommended for the University of Alabama president’s post.

Bell has served as LSU’s chief academic officer since 2012.

“It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as provost at LSU for the last three years,” he said in a statement. “Susan and I have truly enjoyed our time at LSU, a great university made up of incredible people — faculty, staff, alumni and students. All of these groups have come together to make many achievements possible.”

LSU College of Engineering Dean Richard J. Koubek will serve as interim provost until a permanent replacement is named.

LSU President and Chancellor F. King Alexander, who arrived at LSU about a year after Bell, praised Bell for his “vital” insight and leadership — particularly as LSU worked to merge its system and Baton Rouge campus operations.

“Stuart has been an invaluable member of my senior leadership team since my arrival in 2013,” Alexander said. “He will be deeply missed by the entire LSU family.”

While Bell’s departure for a promotion wouldn’t come as a surprise, Roy Martin, head of the state Board of Regents, said he blamed it in part on unstable state funding for higher education.

“I have worked closely with Stuart on many projects, and I know that the chaos in this year’s legislative session contributed to his decision to leave,” Martin wrote in an email. “Granted, it is a big promotion, but the struggle for each of our higher education elders to effectively perform their duties is severely hampered by the unknown future of higher education funding.”

Colleges and universities entered the legislative session facing the threat of a 82 percent hit to higher education funding — what was widely referred to as a “doomsday scenario” for higher education in Louisiana.

State lawmakers have worked to restore much of that funding but remain without a final spending plan for the budget that begins July 1 with just days left in the legislative session.

According to the University of Alabama, UA Chancellor Robert Witt will formally recommend Bell for the president’s post during a special meeting of the Board of Trustees on June 18 in Tuscaloosa.

Once approved, Bell would on June 15 become Alabama’s 29th president ever and fourth leader since 2012.

Outgoing UA President Judy Bonner announced late last year her intentions to step down effective this coming September. A 24-member search panel, assisted by outside firm Academic-Search, began reviewing candidates for the post earlier this year.

According to data compiled by the New Orleans-based Pelican Institute, Bell’s salary at LSU was about $353,000 a year.

The university hasn’t said what he’ll make as president of Alabama’s flagship campus, but the outgoing UA President Bonner made $670,000 last year, according to data compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education. For comparison, LSU’s Alexander earned $600,000 during that same period.

Bell spent 16 years at Alabama, first as a professor in the College of Engineering and then as chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering through 2002. He also was the first director of UA’s Center for Advanced Vehicle Technologies.

He left the university in 2002 to become engineering dean at the University of Kansas, before coming to LSU. His departure from LSU marks the latest in a series of high-profile exits in recent months.

LSU Dean of Students and Associate Vice Chancellor K.C. White is set to become vice president for student affairs at Kennesaw State University, effective July 1.

And David Kurpius, LSU associate vice chancellor of enrollment management, has been named the new dean of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of Louisiana state government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.