LSU President F. King Alexander, whose future at LSU has been the subject of intense speculation recently, received the backing Friday of the governor.
“I support the entire team that’s in place,” Gov. John Bel Edwards told reporters after visiting the LSU Board of Supervisors. “I think it’s my job to support them and to challenge them and to give them the resources they need to deliver the flagship mission for the state of Louisiana.”
Some board members have privately groused about what they call the imperiousness of Alexander, as have some legislators and officials in other higher education systems.
They basically said King is more Alexander’s attitude than just his name. But they also give Alexander credit for navigating the university through years of declining state appropriations made up for with budget cuts and higher tuition. Only in the past two years has state funding increased.
And no board member disagreed Friday when LSU board Chairman James M. Williams, a lawyer from Metairie, sang Alexander’s praises to the governor, who was attending his first board meeting at LSU.
“Under Dr. Alexander’s leadership, we have grown to new heights. We have reached new levels and our students are performing better than before,” Williams told Edwards during the public portion of the meeting.
LSU expects to graduate its largest class ever — an estimated 7,109 students — on May 10.
The LSU Board of Supervisors hires and fires 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.
Since Scott Woodward last week agreed to leave Texas A&M and replace the ousted Joe Alleva as athletic director, one of the most popular parlor games around the State Capitol has been naming who would replace Alexander in running the LSU system, which includes medical schools, research institutes and campuses across the state, including the flagship university in Baton Rouge.
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And the most commonly cited name is Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne.
A lifelong resident of Baton Rouge, Dardenne was student body president during his years at LSU in the 1970s. He is the former lieutenant governor and now serves as Edwards’ chief budget architect and financial adviser.
Edwards said he heard the rumor for the first time Thursday.
“That is not a conversation that Jay and I have ever had,” Edwards said about Dardenne assuming the university presidency. “I can tell you he’s doing a great job as commissioner of administration. But I’m not going to go beyond that.”
Dardenne told The Advocate on Friday the rumors became so widespread that he spoke to Alexander to assure the president that he didn’t start them, doesn’t know where they came from and wasn’t trying to profit from them.
“I’m not angling for this and have not expressed interest,” Dardenne said about the top LSU job. “The board has confidence in King, and I have confidence in the board.”
LSU has had a run of bad publicity recently.
The 2017 death of Phi Delta Theta pledge Max Gruver during fraternity hazing and the arrests this year of nine Delta Kappa Epsilon members in hazing incidents made national headlines. So did the FBI capturing on wiretap conversations by basketball coach Will Wade about possibly funneling money to the families of recruits.
Locally, law enforcement is looking into some sort of connection between a fundraiser for Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center accused of fraud and a no-show job for the parent of an LSU athlete who university officials refuse to identify. Then there was Alexander’s unilateral decision to change admissions standards that prompted the Board of Regents to launch an investigation.
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One of the loudest voices calling for Alexander’s ouster is businessman Richard Lipsey, a longtime supporter of LSU, former chairman of the higher education policymaking Regents, a founding member of the Tiger Athletic Foundation, one of the richest men in Baton Rouge, and one of the first major Republican donors to back Edwards, a Democrat.
Through his Put Louisiana First organization, Lipsey wrote in March: “LSU will continue to face these problems and headline after headline until we have quality leadership at the top. We call on the new leadership at the LSU Board of Supervisors to quickly remove King Alexander.”
Edwards said Friday he hadn’t talked with Lipsey about replacing Alexander for several months.
“His opinions aren’t necessarily mine,” said Edwards who called Lipsey “a very dear friend.” “But I do appreciate the fact that they are heartfelt and sincere.”
Lipsey was out of town Friday and texted that he didn’t yet know enough about Edwards' reflections to comment.
But Lipsey isn’t the only prominent figure angered at Alexander.
U.S. Sen. John N. Kennedy went on the radio April 5 to voice how offended he was that football coach Ed Orgeron introduced Edwards at a campaign fundraiser calling the incumbent “a man of great character, great integrity.” Kennedy blamed Alexander, though not by name, for letting it happen.
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Edwards faces two Republicans in his bid for re-election: Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone and U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, of Alto.
Abraham also took what was seen as a swipe at Alexander over the incident. "This is very disturbing. We have a leadership problem in Louisiana, and it extends further than the governor’s office.”
Alexander has refused several requests to respond Kennedy, Alexander, Lipsey and other critics. But about a week after Kennedy's and Abraham's comments, he dismissed the denunciations as everyday politics that come with the top job at LSU.
“We’re a big complex organization and not everybody likes the decisions we have to make," Alexander told The Advocate on April 10. “This is common place. That’s how it is.”