Despite its years of sharp funding declines and dwindling enrollment, New Orleans Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin said Wednesday he believes the University of New Orleans has a bright future, and he made the case that he’s the best person to lead the struggling school into that future.
“That’s what UNO and this opportunity represents to me: It’s that opportunity of transforming lives, changing lives through education,” Kopplin told members of a search committee interviewing candidates for the school’s presidency.
“It made all the difference to me in my opportunities. My family didn’t come from money; we didn’t come from political connections. The education that I got opened the door for me, and the skills and talents that I got in that education allowed me to be successful.”
Kopplin has a bachelor’s degree from Rice University and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University.
The search committee is holding public interviews through Friday with five candidates under consideration for the UNO job. On Friday, the committee expects to narrow the list to two or more finalists, who will be presented to the full University of Louisiana System’s board Feb. 23 in a public meeting. The board will make the final choice.
Kopplin said he wasn’t job hunting but was drawn to the UNO opening because it’s “an incredible opportunity that’s consistent with all of the things I have done in my career.”
As state legislators grapple with a $2 billion budget gap for the next fiscal year, Kopplin said the school’s next leader will need to be creative about raising revenue. One possibility, he suggested, is reaching out to large businesses and corporations and developing partnerships that could support research at the lakefront school.
In an hourlong public forum before about two dozen faculty and staff members, Kopplin addressed a range of topics, including the importance of having stable leadership at the school, ways of increasing its enrollment, the possibility of lowering admissions standards and his interest in the post.
“To be successful in bringing the institution to where it needs to go, it’s going to take multiple years, and we’ve got to have commitment and steady hands behind it,” he said.
Generating excitement on the campus and trying to lure recruits based on the draw of living in New Orleans are key to bolstering UNO’s enrollment, he said, citing a lofty comparison.
“I would brand UNO as the school that is going to do for New Orleans what NYU has helped do in New York, which is connect a school with a resurgent city that holds its same name, and say we’re going to be the anchor for the growth of the city of New Orleans and the region,” he said.
Though not an academic by trade, Kopplin called himself “a quick study” and “a good listener” and said he would rely on his provost and deans for input and treat them “with great deference.”
Asked what makes him qualified for the job, Kopplin referenced his experience in government.
As the city’s first deputy mayor and chief administrative officer since Mayor Mitch Landrieu took office in 2010, Kopplin played a central part in reducing a $100 million deficit that Landrieu inherited.
He also cited his work as executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the state agency tasked with leading the state’s recovery after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and how that experience would play into the new role: lobbying lawmakers, getting key stakeholders to buy into an idea, operating transparently and communicating openly.
Former UNO President Peter Fos retired last month after four years at the helm.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.