Board of Regents members who have been tasked with finding Louisiana’s next higher education commissioner met for nearly four hours Wednesday behind closed doors at an airport hotel with an unknown number of people who are at least interested in the job.

The commissioner search committee will resume the meetings Thursday and could name a slate of finalists if the meetings go well, leaders said.

“I’ve been extremely impressed with the quality and character of the individuals who have expressed interest,” Board of Regents Chairman Clinton “Bubba” Rasberry said Wednesday after the first day of meetings.

The board would not release details about the candidates, citing the preliminary stage of the process. It remains unclear who they are or even how many of them are being interviewed this week. Twenty-five people had expressed interest in the job or were nominated, according to the board’s search consultant.

The state board is paying travel expenses to bring them to the Hilton at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport for the meetings. That money is on top of the $75,000 the board is paying Washington, D.C.-based AGB Search for help with the search and related expenses.

Originally, the committee was expected to name a list of semi-finalists last month, but Uma Subramanian, deputy commissioner for External and Legal Affairs for the Board of Regents, said the search committee deviated from that plan so that it would have a better slate of candidates to consider.

“Announcing semi-finalists in August would have entailed ruling out those individuals who were worthy of consideration but requested to meet with the search committee before they could decide to apply for the job,” she said. “At this time, the search process is still at a stage where the persons with relevant experience, background and qualifications are unwilling to confirm their interest in applying for the position without a meeting with the search committee.”

Rasberry said the meetings allow both sides to gauge how well the candidate fits with the job’s needs. It also gives board members a chance to explain the state of higher education in Louisiana and the chancellor’s role with regard to the four state system governing boards and leaders.

“These conversations are preliminary, as they have not confirmed their interest,” he said. “I think such a preliminary meeting is necessary for both sides.”

Subramanian said a slate of finalists could still be named Thursday, if the committee is comfortable with the remaining candidates who express mutual interest.

Attempts to shroud the identities of candidates up for public higher education jobs are common across the country, despite the fact that the positions are state positions. Leaders typically argue that secrecy helps ease the concerns of candidates who wouldn’t want their names out in the public early in the process.

During the legislative session, higher education leaders argued unsuccessfully for the removal of Senate confirmation over the higher education commissioner, citing similar concerns that it would scare off qualified candidates — particularly those employed elsewhere.

As a state employee who oversees coordination between Louisiana’s college and university systems and state-level policies, the new commissioner likely will be paid around $350,000. The exact salary will be set by the Board of Regents once a finalist is selected.

After three years on the job, former Commissioner Jim Purcell, who made $275,000 in the role, didn’t seek a contract renewal following a reported clash with Gov. Bobby Jindal over repeated cutbacks in state funding for higher education.

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