New UNO President John Nicklow plans to make growing enrollment his top priority _lowres

John Nicklow

The new president of the University of New Orleans is John Nicklow, who currently serves as the school’s provost.

Nicklow, a longtime academic administrator, edged out New Orleans Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin, a higher-profile candidate but one whose downfall was his lack of experience in higher education administration.

Nicklow was selected Wednesday by the University of Louisiana system Board of Supervisors. He received 10 votes; Kopplin got six.

Nicklow’s effective start date in the top position, salary and benefits will be negotiated with UL System Interim President Dan Reneau.

Nicklow has been provost and vice president of academic affairs of UNO since July. Before that, he spent four years as provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Southern Illinois University, a flagship campus with nearly 18,000 students. He has a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Bucknell University and a doctorate from Arizona State University.

As president, he will focus on increasing enrollment, building community partnerships with alumni, local businesses and organizations, and expanding research at the university, he said.

“We are going to work hard to innovate,” Nicklow said in an interview after the vote. “We began last summer changing a lot of things, innovating and disrupting normal operations, and we’ll continue to do that and do it in other areas.”

The search for a new UNO president was viewed as a high-stakes selection, with higher education leaders hoping for someone who could turn the tide of the New Orleans public university, which has suffered from sinking enrollment over the past 10 years. The university, like the rest of higher education, also has endured dramatic budget cuts and is potentially facing more cuts in state revenue for this fiscal year and next.

Kopplin’s bid for the job raised the level of interest outside traditional academic circles because of his résumé working alongside Mayor Mitch Landrieu and other state leaders.

Before joining Landrieu in 2010 to help run New Orleans, Kopplin served as the executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the state agency charged with leading the recovery after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

He also was a top aide to former Govs. Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco.

Many business leaders wrote letters to the board and spoke on his behalf.

“I would have loved to have had the opportunity to continue to work and rebuild our city at UNO,” Kopplin said after the vote. “But I’m proud to have had the support of dozens of business and civic leaders and 10 past presidents of the UNO Alumni Association.”

While Kopplin was backed by many business leaders, Nicklow had the support of both students and faculty.

Before the vote, Joy Ballard-Oliver, the UNO student body president, told the board that students largely stand behind Nicklow, based on her conversations.

“We need leadership now, and we want that leadership to be academic,” she said. She added that Nicklow has reached out to students directly to include them in campus initiatives and get campus feedback.

“He asks students what they want and why they are here,” she said. “Our administration has never talked to students like this before.”

Last month, Faculty Senate President Cherie Trumbach told the board that faculty members strongly supported Nicklow.

UNO, over the past eight years, has seen its state support shrink by half and has suffered from greater drops in enrollment than other state universities. Enrollment sank from 17,142 students registered before Hurricane Katrina to just 8,423 last fall — UNO’s smallest class since 1967.

Nicklow said he will attack enrollment with “aggressive, intentional efforts that reach wide and far.”

“We need branding and messaging that appeals to the community and prospective students,” he said, adding that boosting financial aid and improving retention also are factors.

UNO President Peter Fos retired in January.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen.