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LSU board members listen to attorney Scott Schneider, via Zoom, as LSU releases their Husch Blackwell report on sexual assault/misconduct cases at their Board of Supervisors meeting Friday March 5, 2021, in Baton Rouge, La.

An LSU special committee Wednesday picked eight candidates to interview next week for the university’s top job, including Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, who runs the day-to-day operations of state government, and University of Louisiana system President Jim Henderson, who heads the state’s largest public university system.

Also to be interviewed are:

  • Laurence Alexander, professor and chancellor at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
  • Army Maj. Gen. Ronald Clark, chief of staff of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii
  • Kelvin Droegemeier, former director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
  • Rustin M. Moore, professor and dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University
  • Mary Ann Rankin, professor and former senior vice president and provost of the University of Maryland, College Park
  • Retired Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley, president and CEO of The P3i Group.

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.

The LSU sexual misconduct scandal affected the numbers of those applying. 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.

Some members of the LSU search committee had debated whether to postpone the search in hopes of attracting academic administrators unwilling to wade into the issues surrounding the university at present. Ultimately, the panel decided to continue the process, which will lead to a selection in May, with a new president-chancellor taking office sometime over the summer.

The committee plans to livestream the virtual interviews of all eight semifinalists Monday and Tuesday. A small part of the interviews will be behind closed doors, but much of the conversation will be in public.

Addressing rumors and innuendo over who had applied, who should have applied, which candidate was favored, and the like, the panel’s chair, James Williams, of New Orleans, said only the work of committee members is driving the search process.

“We’re not going to do anything on the back of a napkin in the dark of night,” Williams said. “No one is here for show. … Everybody here has invested a lot of time, effort to pick the next president of LSU.”

Any candidate applying now would still have to be interviewed Monday or Tuesday, if the committee approves. Williams said the plan is to pick finalists on April 30, to submit to the LSU Board of Supervisors.

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Williams said each of the members will be asking their own questions, which he expects to include conversations about the handling of the sexual harassment claims.

“Mr. Galligan has us on the right path” to setting up the proper processes and rules, Williams said, referring to interim LSU President Tom Galligan. “But I’d be surprised if there wasn’t questions designed to elicit how a candidate approaches that issue.”

The job became open in late 2019 when President-Chancellor F. King Alexander announced he was taking a similar post leading Oregon State University.

The two positions — president and chancellor — were merged into one under Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal after the LSU board fired the previous president, followed swiftly by the previous chancellor’s resignation.

Alexander was hired after a process so secretive that the faculty Senate unanimously voted “no confidence” in the search.

Alexander had a rough time with some major donors who opposed his giving essays and personal histories more weight in admissions decisions than the traditional college board tests scores. Bad behavior by the fraternities haunted his six-year tenure. And Alexander irritated many of the state’s other higher education officials who were competing for decreasing state funding for colleges and universities.

Upon Alexander’s resignation in December 2019, a new LSU Board of Supervisors, a majority of whom had been appointed by Gov. John Bel Edwards, considered whether to split the position, requiring the hiring of two people, or to keep the duties consolidated, requiring the hiring of one.

LSU has been led on an interim basis by Galligan, the former law school dean, since January 2020. Galligan has been LSU’s face and endured much wrath as the university tries to navigate through problems that came to a head during the past year but began long before he became interim. Galligan announced Tuesday that he withdrew his name from consideration of taking the job full time. He wants to return to teaching at the law school once the new president is seated.

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