Ray Belton has his work cut out for him as the new leader of the Southern University System. Belton was recently selected for a new position that combines the chancellor post at Southern’s main Baton Rouge campus with the system presidency. LSU combined its top two positions in a similar way before choosing F. King Alexander in 2013.
The combined roles for Belton should mean, we hope, less friction between the system office and Southern’s biggest campus. Tensions between Southern’s recently departed system president, Ron Mason, and its former chancellor, James Llorens, proved an unhelpful distraction as the university faced bigger challenges – namely, a series of state budget cuts and frequently declining enrollment.
We commend Southern officials for the largely transparent search that led to Belton’s selection. The search process included the public release of finalists’ names and a round of public interviews with the top candidates. That kind of openness helps build public confidence that the best person was selected for the job.
Belton is no stranger to Southern, having graduated from Southern University in Shreveport and Southern University in Baton Rouge. He has a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin. Before being picked to lead the Southern system, he was chancellor of Southern’s Shreveport campus.
Historically black colleges and universities such as Southern educated African-Americans in the days of segregation when no other institution would. In an era of increased options for today’s minority students, HBCUs have been required to affirm their continuing relevance. As the public face of Southern, Belton should be a prominent voice in that conversation.
Southern’s long-term challenge — to maintain and grow enrollment in a climate of shrinking resources — isn’t an enviable one for any administrator.
We wish Belton luck. He will need plenty of it.