Advertisements for Southern University’s newly created president and chancellor position could start appearing in national publications as early as next week.
The panel that has been charged with identifying a new leader for the system and Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus hopes to identify three finalists for the post by June, and the full system board will make its pick by July 1.
“There’s no lack of interest,” said Albert Sam, a former member of the state Board of Regents who is leading the Southern search committee. “This is a historic position for Southern University.”
Outgoing President Ronald Mason’s contract expires June 30, and the Baton Rouge campus has been without a permanent chancellor since last year’s ouster of Chancellor James Llorens.
Last month, the Southern University System Board of Supervisors voted to combine the president and chancellor jobs — a streamlining and cost-cutting move that members hope will show state lawmakers that they are committed to being more efficient. Southern leaders had started and abruptly stopped a search for a new president late last year, before a turnover in the system board.
The move comes as Louisiana’s colleges and universities brace for deep budget cuts in the coming year. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive budget recommendation has about a $211 million gap in funding for higher education compared with this year, and even that relies on a rollback of some tax credits. If that proposal doesn’t work out, then the hit to colleges could swell to more than $500 million.
The prospect of further cuts to already cash-strapped Southern University hangs like a cloud over the latest search for a new leader.
This is the third Southern search for committee member Pat Magee, a system board member, Southern alum and attorney from Lafayette.
“This time, we have absolutely no choice; we have to find the best and the brightest,” Magee said. “If we get it wrong, God bless us.”
The sentiment was expressed by several others on the search panel.
“We’ve got to get it right. A lot of people are counting on us to get it right,” said Charlotte Placide, former superintendent of East Baton Rouge Parish schools.
System board Chairman Leon Tarver, a former president of the Southern University System, said leaders are continuing to fine-tune how the new structure will operate but believe that “imagination and creativity” will be necessary for the system’s future.
“We have gone through a great deal of challenges,” he said.
Because of the quick turn-around needed and the board’s decision not to use a search firm, the search committee is expected to operate with a more fluid process.
According to Sam, advertisements will go up within a week, inviting nominations and letters of intent.
Members individually will begin reaching out to solicit potential candidates.
From that list of nominations and initial contact, the committee will begin feeling out candidates, he said.
“We have to assess, ‘Are we interested in each other?’ ” Sam said.
Then the committee will move on to the vetting stages.
“That’s the core of what we’ll be doing,” he said.
Robyn Merrick, director of Alumni Affairs for Southern University, is serving as a liaison to help with the marketing of the position and the selection process.
She said social media will be a component of the recruiting process, but, she noted, only in a tasteful way.
“A lot of candidates out there these days are very hi-tech,” she said.