A two-year legal fight came to an end Friday as LSU finally revealed the three men F. King Alexander had to beat in spring 2013 to land the job as president and chancellor of Louisiana’s flagship university.
Those three other finalists were Steven Ballard, of East Carolina University; Richard Bowen Loftin, then president of Texas A&M University and now chancellor of the University of Missouri; and Malcolm Portera, retired chancellor of the University of Alabama.
Two sat down for interviews, and one withdrew his name from consideration — the records don’t make clear who was who.
All three ran institutions with greater focus on academic research than Cal State University in Long Beach, California, the university Alexander presided over from 2006 to 2013.
Texas A&M, which Loftin ran from 2010 to 2014, and University of Alabama, which Portera ran from 2002 to 2012 before retiring, are both large, active research universities on a par with LSU. East Carolina, which Ballard has served as chancellor since 2004, a job he still holds, gives out fewer doctoral degrees each year than Alabama and Texas A&M but more than Cal State.
In terms of enrollment, Texas A&M is the largest of these schools, with more than 56,000 students. LSU has more than 32,000 students, slightly larger than the smallest school in the group, East Carolina.
The spring 2013 LSU presidential search for which Alexander was named the sole finalist was a search conducted largely in secret. The Advocate, the Times-Picayune and Andrea Gallo, then a Daily Reveille employee, filed public records lawsuits against the LSU Board of Supervisors for not releasing more information about the search.
Scott Sternberg, an attorney representing the newspapers, said the Friday release of the names of the other finalists for LSU’s top post is a win for the public.
“We are celebrating a victory for transparency in that now the public knows who the board was considering as they made that very tough decision to hire King Alexander,” Sternberg said.
The search committee reported it had identified 100 possible candidates for the LSU job, narrowed that list to 35 active candidates, then narrowed that list again to six or seven people, some of whom were interviewed face to face.
State Judge Janice Clark, in a 2013 ruling, ordered LSU to turn over the names of the 35 active candidates.
That ruling was partly overturned in January by a state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal panel, which ruled that LSU need only release publicly information for four individuals, including Alexander. The panel described the 31 other candidates not as applicants but as part of a “broad wish list” compiled by the search committee, individuals who may not actually have consented or sought to be considered for the position.
The newspapers had asked the Louisiana Supreme Court to release the name of all 35 candidates, but earlier this month the high court declined to take up the case. Friday’s release brings the legal case to an end.
“We respect the decision of the court; it’s not an easy task the court had,” Sternberg said. “We thought all 35 should have been turned over.”
In a written statement, Linda Bonnin, LSU vice president for strategic communications, said the release of the four top candidates shows that the 2013 search produced a “strong pool,” a result for which she credited the university’s secretive approach.
“The most effective search process for a university president is one that ensures confidentiality during the recruitment phase, since to do otherwise would limit the number of qualified candidates,” Bonnin said.
Sternberg said LSU has a history of conducting leadership searches in secret but said he hopes the recent court ruling will persuade LSU to open up its future searches to sunshine, especially when it comes to finalists.
“The law requires the public to see their applications,” he said.
Editor’s note: This article was changed after posting to reflect the fact that the newspapers had appealed a 1st Circuit opinion limiting the release of applicant information.
Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.