Gov. John Bel Edwards said he's not ready to back up a call to oust LSU President F. King Alexander by the former chair of the state’s top policymakers for public higher education.
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Richard Lipsey, a longtime supporter of LSU and one of the richest businessmen in Baton Rouge, pointed to a series of what he called scandals that has hit the headlines over the past few weeks from the suspension of basketball coach Will Wade to the university's involvement in hospital foundation fraud allegations to criticism from the Legislative Auditor for improperly paying a vet school professor who had been disciplined. Lipsey stepped down in December from the Board of Regents, which oversees policy and distributes state appropriations for all public universities in Louisiana.
He also called for the removal of embattled athletic director Joe Alleva.
“It’s very unfortunate what’s going on there. It’s time we move on,” Lipsey said in an interview about the series of issues that he blames on Alexander's leadership. “We don’t really have all the facts, they’re not very transparent. But there have been so many missteps over at LSU we need to begin the search for a qualified leader.”
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Lipsey wrote in a letter posted to the website for a foundation that he started last year: "We call on the new leadership at the LSU Board of Supervisors to quickly remove King Alexander and Joe Alleva form their current positions and replace them with nationally recognized interims while appropriate permanent leadership is selected."
Alexander refused comment Wednesday.
Edwards, a Democrat seeking re-election this year, wouldn't wade too far into the controversy on his monthly radio program.
“I’m not prepared to echo what he is saying with respect to the current leadership at LSU, and I’ll just leave it at that," Edwards said when asked about Lipsey's letter.
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Lipsey is a “tremendous person” who has done a lot for Louisiana and is a friend, Edwards said. Lipsey was one of the first Republicans who endorsed the Democratic candidate’s bid to become governor in 2015.
The LSU Board of Supervisors hire and fire top leadership at the state's flagship university. By law, the governor selects members of the 16-member board for staggered terms. Edwards' appointees now hold the majority of the LSU Board.
But little evidence has percolated out of the cloistered group of supervisors about how much they hold Alexander responsible for the series of events that has angered Lipsey. One supervisor, speaking anonymously because only the board chairman has authority to comment publicly, said Lipsey's comments have been discussed by at least some of the board members, but there isn't the sense of a movement to can Alexander. LSU Board Chairman James M. Williams, a lawyer from Metairie who does have the authority to comment, wouldn't do so after Wednesday's board meeting.
Williams referred questions to Jason Droddy, the school’s communications director, who said the university would have nothing to say about Lipsey's call for resignation.
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The board evaluated Alexander’s job performance in October and voted to give him a raise.
“A lot of good items were discussed at this (board) meeting that Mr. Lipsey failed to mention in his blog,” said LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard. He pointed to a litany of awards that LSU students and faculty had won recently. The commendations were read out by Alexander and praised by the board members during Wednesday's meeting.
Lipsey faulted Alexander for spending $85 million on a “lazy river” swimming pool while the basement of the main library gets ankle deep in water whenever it rains. The lazy river, a frequent point of contention for LSU critics, was funded with a dedicated fee that students approved for upgrades to the campus recreation center.
Lipsey also says Alexander has been unable to handle the fraternities at LSU, where one freshman died from overdrinking in 2017 and nine DKE members were arrested earlier this year for violent hazing incidents.
Lipsey and Alexander first came to odds last year after the president unilaterally changed the standards – ACT scores and high school grade point averages – that high schoolers need to win a place in LSU's freshman class. Lipsey said Alexander was weakening the quality of students being enrolled. Alexander countered that “holistic admissions” had been adopted by most major universities around the country.
During Wednesday's board meeting, Alexander pointed out that the first class selected using the new admissions procedures, which began classes last August, entered the spring semester with higher grades and more credit hours than the previous year’s freshman class.
Alexander and Alleva on March 8 indefinitely suspended basketball coach Will Wade a day after reports that an FBI wiretap captured telephone conversations about funneling money to the families of basketball recruits.
And LSU was drawn into allegations of fraud by the former head of the fundraising arm for the Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge. An independent auditor claimed last week that fundraiser John Paul Funes had diverted at least some the $810,000 they say he took to help the parent of an LSU athlete by paying her wages for a job.
Droddy refused to identify the player, the parent or the job.