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UPDATED 8:17 p.m.

Jim Henderson, William F. Tate IV and Kelvin Droegemeier were chosen as the finalists for the top job at LSU.

The LSU Presidential Search Committee met for three hours behind closed doors after two days of interviews of eight semifinalists.

Henderson is president of the University of Louisiana System, which has nine state colleges serving about 90,000 students.  

Droegemeier was the director for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for part of President Donald Trump’s term. 

Tate is the provost at the University of South Carolina

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, who was interviewed Monday, was not one of the finalists.

The three finalists will visit the university next week to meet with various groups, including faculty and staff, students, administrators from various LSU campuses, alumni and donors. The selection committee will then make a recommendation to the LSU Board of Supervisors, which will make the final decision.

The university has been buffeted during the past two months over its cover-ups and mishandling of sexual misconduct complaints lodged by students over the years. For much of 2020, LSU struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic as well as fallout from the school’s racist history and fraternity hazing.

Twenty-three candidates submitted their applications for the post of president of a system with about 45,000 students that includes colleges, medical schools, a law school and research institutions across the state, coupled with being chancellor of Louisiana’s flagship university in Baton Rouge.

Eight semifinalists were interviewed Monday and Tuesday remotely via Zoom to ensure that all the candidates had the same experience. So, the Baton Rouge-based candidates answered the same questions as the candidates from other places. Because of the time difference, the panel got to see the sun rise in Honolulu in the progressively brightened office of Major General Ron Clark, chief of staff, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, and one of the candidates interviewed Tuesday.

Each candidate was asked the same questions – usually asked by the same committee members and usually with the same dry monotone. The candidates were asked how they would interact with students, what role the faculty play, experience with fundraising and, of course, how they would deal with the ongoing scandal in which the complaints of young female students were covered up and dismissed by administrators over the years.

“I think all of the board members have seen is that we've got more going for us than we even realize that we've got more going for us, and people realize,” said James Williams, head of the search committee and a member of the LSU Board. “We need a leader who can bring it all together, who can weave it into a wonderful fabric or gumbo or whatever analogy you want to use and put it on display for the world.”

A chancellor is responsible for a campus’s academic, fiscal, and administrative matters. A provost is the campus’s chief academic officer. In Louisiana, the president of the system is the chief executive officer of the colleges and universities associated with the system, which in LSU’s case includes four-year universities, one two-year institution, two medical schools, a law school, the agricultural center, research facilities and the flagship Baton Rouge campus, educating about 50,000 students.

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LSU is looking for a combination president to run the LSU system and chancellor for the Baton Rouge campus.

Tate asked the search committee just what the job would entail. He had read about talk among some supervisors saying the LSU board had not officially voted on whether the post should be president of LSU system and chancellor of the Baton Rouge campus.

Williams said the panel had considered the structure at the start of the process months ago and decided to keep the position as one job. “It would be unfair for us to change the job description in the middle of the search. ... And that is the obviously the consolidated position,” he said.

Droegemeier said he sees a university as “a place where all scholarly disciplines of a comprehensive research university – those which garner large external funding and those which do not – are valued, resourced, and used to improve and enrich the human condition here at home and around the world.”

Droegemeier was the director for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for part of President Donald Trump’s term. He came to the job after serving two terms – under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama – on the National Science Board. “I coordinated planning, prioritization, and policymaking for more than two dozen Federal agencies which conduct or support research and development with combined budgets of more than $130 billion,” he wrote.

The ability to raise money is one area that committee explored with each of the candidates. While the foundation that helps athletics is flush but the endowment for academics lags behind other flagships.

The point was made by several of the candidates that part of the reason is that LSU donors need to be wooed.

“In terms of the relationships and making it matter,” Clark said, a president needs to connect with individuals to sell “the importance of what we're doing in a way that makes them want to be a part of what we're doing, to make them want to be a part of the family to make them want to, you know, literally give their own treasure, to be a part of the legacy.”

All the candidates gave similar strategies and tactics.

"I want a system that documents and reflects, it has a mirror to ensure that the student athletes who matriculate seeking those national championships around college degrees, Tate said about handling athletics. "We have to create a context where you can win the Heisman or the Nobel Prize."

Another issue is trying to coordinate between the different LSU campuses all of which seem to have different goals, said Lt. Gen. (Ret) Jeff Talley, who is now president and CEO of The P3i Group, LLC. “The current strategic plan is a good start but it doesn't quite go far enough. And it seems to be predominately Baton Rouge centric universities can't afford to have redundancy,” he said.

The job became open in late 2019 when President-Chancellor F. King Alexander announced he was taking a similar post leading Oregon State University. Tom Galligan has served as the interim president since and will continue until a new leader is selected.

Galligan withdrew his name from consideration before the interviews began.

Ruston Moore said he dealt with academic misconduct, a student’s suicide, and “situations of research misconduct, gross incompetence, grave misconduct, and other inappropriate behaviors and actions of faculty, staff and students.”

“It would be important for me to work closely with government relations/affairs, university relations/communications, other institutional and system units and leaders, the Board of Supervisors and others to ensure we are speaking with once voice with consistency and clarity to maintain trust, respect and support of all stakeholders and supporters,” Moore said.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.