The next several months likely will be tough for LSU System President Williams Jenkins.
In LSU circles, Jenkins has been widely praised for his leadership, particularly in 2005, while serving as system president, the state’s largest charity hospital was lost to Hurricane Katrina. During that time, Jenkins and others worked long hours to house New Orleans students on a Finnish ferry in Baton Rouge and to turn the Pete Maravich Assembly Center into a makeshift hospital.
Seven years later, after a brief retirement in Colleyville, Texas, the 75-year-old native South African is back at LSU as interim president following the LSU Board of Supervisors’ April firing of John Lombardi. The board expects the search for a replacement to last six months.
Soon, Jenkins’ title will get longer as he assumes the interim chancellor position of the Baton Rouge campus, replacing Michael Martin, who is leaving to become the head of the Colorado State System.
Jenkins is in the unique position of having held each job separately and simultaneously as he did in 2004. But this time around, Jenkins said he expects “more challenges than before.”
Jenkins has to find ways to cut between $40 million and $50 million from LSU’s 10 hospitals as part of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plans to close an $859 million hole in the state Medicaid budget prompted by declines in federal support.
So far, the plan is to close operating rooms and cut emergency room services, acute-care beds and a number of other services.
On the higher education front, Jenkins has to find ways to cope with $28 million in budget cuts from the state that are putting a strain on LSU’s law school, agricultural center and four university campuses. The state has balanced its budget over the last four years by cutting about $420 million from higher education, including $66 million this year.
Among Jenkins’ concerns will be working with the LSU AgCenter to close research stations or offices to offset $5.4 million in cuts; keeping the Paul M. Herbert Law Center competitive as budget cuts take their toll; and helping LSU at Eunice deal with the loss of about $1.5 million for not having met certain performance benchmarks.
At the Baton Rouge campus, Jenkins will have to trim $19 million from the budget while avoiding layoffs. Preliminary plans could cause some personal pain, as the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine budget is likely to be slashed.
Jenkins, who has described himself as a “country veterinarian at heart,” got his start at LSU in the late 1980s as the dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine.
So far, Jenkins isn’t complaining.
“I’ll have a great deal of work to do especially with our hospitals and our health-care delivery systems, so I’ll have to rely more and more on the senior administrative staff,” he said.
Jenkins, who said he gets to the office at 7 a.m. on most days and doesn’t leave until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m., says the long hours are easier to handle because he is a “bachelor” during the week with his wife having stayed in Texas.
When the fall semester begins, Jenkins said, his duties as chancellor will ramp up as he takes on hosting campus benefactors; meeting with student, faculty and staff leaders; and putting out any fires that spring up.
“On campus, you just never know what’s going to happen next,” he said.
LSU Board Chairman Hank Danos said Jenkins’ track record of leadership during adverse circumstances makes him qualified to wear multiple hats while the board looks for a new system president and Baton Rouge chancellor.
“He’s probably more qualified than anybody in the country,” Danos said.
Koran Addo covers higher education for The Advocate Capitol news bureau. His email address is email@example.com.