Signaling a potential deadlock on the two finalists for president of the University of New Orleans, the deciding board unexpectedly punted its final decision Tuesday afternoon, blaming the bad weather.
The University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors interviewed the two finalists — New Orleans Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin and UNO Provost John Nicklow — on Tuesday morning and was expected to announce its choice that afternoon.
But after two hours of interviews and another two-and-a-half hours of deliberating behind closed doors, the board said it needed more time to make their decision.
Board Chairman Jimmie “Beau” Martin said the threat of severe weather caused the body to adjourn without a final decision because it prevented four of the 16 members from attending and meant those on hand needed to leave before the storm hit.
A date for the board to reconvene and make a final decision has not been set, said Cami Geisman, a system spokeswoman.
“There’s a number of people trying to get back (home) before the weather gets bad, and they need more time,” said Winston DeCuir Jr., the board’s attorney.
The two finalists emerged last week during interviews with a search committee. Initially, the committee tried to advance three or four finalists to the board of supervisors, but it was unable to agree on anyone except the top two.
Kopplin’s interest in the job has raised the profile of the president search. Kopplin has worked alongside Mayor Mitch Landrieu since 2010 as his second-in-command running the city of New Orleans.
Before working for Landrieu, Kopplin spent two years as a senior adviser at Teach for America and two years as executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the state agency charged with leading the recovery after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He also worked as chief of staff to former Govs. Kathleen Blanco and Mike Foster.
But Nicklow brings practical academic administrative experience and appears to enjoy the support of much of the faculty. Faculty Senate President Cherie Trumbach told the board ahead of the meeting that faculty members strongly support Nicklow but believe both candidates are good.
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.
During interviews, Kopplin likened UNO’s current situation to that of previous disasters facing New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana, where he was a part of the recovery. He said he embraces the challenge of fighting to restore UNO and make it stronger than ever.
“It’s a great institution that is suffering today,” Kopplin said of UNO. “There are faculty here who brought the school back after Katrina, when it was not clear that the school was welcomed back. They fought against significant budget cuts. I want to give those folks hope and something to fight for.”
Kopplin, who noted his lack of academic administration experience, stressed his ability to deliver results in his previous and current roles managing public agencies.
Both candidates stated a need for growing enrollment and fundraising for the university.
Nicklow was able to draw on his short time at UNO to illustrate his vision for moving forward.
“I came to UNO because I believe the campus has a tremendous future,” he said. “Seven months later, I know its strengths, its weaknesses and its opportunities.”
Nicklow said as provost he already has worked on plans to merge various colleges and departments in the coming months. “Those structural changes will create savings immediately,” he said.
UNO, like the rest of Louisiana’s post-secondary educational institutions, is facing potentially deep cuts for this fiscal year and next as the Legislature takes on huge budget deficits. UNO, over the past eight years, has already seen 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.
UNO President Peter Fos retired last month. Fos, whose four-year tenure was marred by steep funding cuts and declining enrollment in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, was paid an annual salary of $325,000.