Louisiana’s next higher education commissioner has served in the Navy and Air Force, speaks multiple languages, has studied European law and Russian history, and is seen as an expert on global policy.
The state Board of Regents on Thursday hailed as a coup its decision to hire Texas Tech System administrator Joseph Rallo for the state higher education post that’s been vacant for several months.
“There was a great deal of invigorating conversation. Thoughtful insights were given, and I’m quite happy and pleased with the result,” Board of Regents Chairman Clinton “Bubba” Rasberry said of the hire. “We look forward to a wonderful dialogue moving forward. There’s a lot for all of us to learn.”
The hire technically is pending salary negotiations and state Senate confirmation, but both are expected to be technicalities. Leaders have said the salary will be about $350,000.
Rallo, who has held administrative roles in the Texas Tech System since 2007, is expected to take over as commissioner by early next year. His contract likely will be for three years, with the potential for an extension.
He said he is excited about the prospects here, even though it will be a step away from the more campus-focused duties he previously has held.
“Louisiana, to me, is a rather interesting state,” Rallo said. “You have history that no other state has. You have an incredible amount of culture and vibrant people.”
Rallo’s wife is an artist from Houston, and she came with him to visit Baton Rouge this week. Rallo said the couple will be selling their home in Lubbock, Texas, as part of the process of relocating to Baton Rouge.
During a 30-minute interview Thursday, the only portion of the process that was open to the public, Rallo described himself to the board as an open and intuitive leader who could rely on skills learned through his military and academic background and who possesses intimate knowledge of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the accrediting body for Louisiana colleges and universities.
“To be a good system leader, you need a strong personality and a strong passion for what you do,” he said.
The board also interviewed finalist West Liberty University President Rob Capehart. A third candidate, Rhode Island Community College President Ray Di Pasquale, withdrew his name from consideration Thursday morning.
All three had met with various groups this week, including system and community leaders, faculty members and students.
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.
The Board of Regents didn’t openly ask its finalists about repeated budget cuts that the state’s colleges and universities have faced in recent years or the tuition hikes they have spurred. Thursday’s finalists also were not asked about Louisiana’s Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, a state-funded scholarship program that has been the subject of recent debate because of its ballooning costs.
After the hire was announced, Rallo said tuition hikes and TOPS will be among the issues he looks into once he starts in Louisiana.
“There’s a lot of conversation in Louisiana about the value of higher education, and that’s a conversation that needs to be had,” he said.
Former higher education Commissioner Jim Purcell didn’t seek a contract renewal after reportedly clashing with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration over repeated state funding cuts to higher education.
Purcell, who held the role for three years at a $275,000 salary, now serves as commissioner of higher education in Rhode Island.
Rallo said he has worked with leaders who have leaned more toward the politician side of academia, and he feels comfortable taking on the political dynamics involved in the commissioner’s role here.
“University presidents are really politically motivated, whether it’s seeking donations from private individuals or seeking funding from the Legislature,” he said. “I don’t see any real difference, except now you’re really representing the entire state.”
Rallo served as president of Angelo State University for five years before he became system vice chancellor for the Texas Tech System in 2012. He recently was named senior adviser for global engagement at Texas Tech.
Rallo speaks French and Italian. He is a retired Air Force colonel and previously served as an intelligence officer in the Navy.
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.
He said dealing with diverse institutions through the Texas Tech System would translate to serve higher education here.
Rasberry said he hopes that Rallo will be able to bring life experiences and career experiences and “apply them to things that are important to the state of Louisiana.”