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LSU interim President Tom Galligan speaks at a press conference along with Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, and Gov. John Bel Edwards, after one of several roundtable discussions with LSU officials and others, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020 in the LSU Foundation Training Room.

The LSU Board of Supervisors, who initially were going to start looking for a new leader after Christmas, finally announced Thursday they’ll start looking to permanently replace F. King Alexander, who moved to head Oregon State University last year.

Over the past 10 months, LSU has struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic, a more intense look at the flagship’s racist past, and concern about whether to separate the jobs of system president and chancellor of the Baton Rouge campus. In fact, the first task the 20-member committee will be doing is preparing a “position description for the presidency” that the full board will consider on Oct. 23.

Thomas Galligan Jr., dean of LSU’s Paul M. Hebert Law Center, was brought in Jan. 1 as an interim and told he would run things temporarily for six-to-nine months. Initially, Galligan was looking forward to returning to the law school and teaching.

But not anymore.

“I got the bug,” Galligan said Wednesday, adding he’ll apply for the job no matter how it is structured.

“I have not looked at the process, but however one expresses interest in the position, I will be expressing interest in the position,” Galligan said.

Galligan has led LSU through an abrupt shutdown and transfer to online teaching caused by the coronavirus pandemic, then organized how to bring students and faculty back to LSU campuses. At the same time, LSU’s racist history has come under sharper review as the university removed the name of Troy Middleton, a war hero and former chancellor, from the main library because of segregationist comments made in the 1950s and 1960s. LSU organized a committee to review – with an eye to removing – the names of Confederates and Jim Crow officials from a variety of campus buildings. And LSU has increased efforts to admit more minorities and support them through graduation.

“I’d love to see this COVID thing through, the conversation we’re having about diversity and inclusiveness I want to be a part of that,” Galligan said.

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, a former LSU student body president, expressed interest in the position back in December. He was in meetings and unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Within hours of Alexander announcing Dec. 13 that he would be moving to Oregon, some of the 16 members of the LSU Board started talking about whether to split the duties of its top leader. Alexander had a national reputation and had weathered sharp cuts in the state’s appropriations for higher education. But Alexander also had angered some of the university’s largest donors and supporters over several issues, including his effort to adopt a “holistic admissions” standard that downplayed college board test scores, relying more on essays and personal recommendations.

A system president oversees four-year universities on campuses scattered across the state, a two-year college, several research institutions, a law school, two medical schools, a dental school, a statewide agricultural cooperative program, one public hospital and administers the contracts of the private companies that manage the state’s charity hospitals. The chancellor handles academics, research and curriculum at the state’s competitive admissions flagship university, LSU-Baton Rouge.

LSU has administrative needs and it has academic needs, said Mary Werner, a Lake Charles oil and gas company executive and chair of the LSU Board at the time. Also, the LSU culture is one that requires its leadership to attend all sorts of social events, a necessity that many leaders have found uncomfortable, including Alexander.

“We’re looking for the best candidate,” Werner said Dec. 13.

Werner said the procedures and protocols for a presidential search would begin after the Christmas holidays and would take all those factors into account.

The search was postponed until May to allow experts from the Association of Governing Boards team to study the good and the bad about having both the chancellor of LSU A&M Baton Rouge campus as well as president of the LSU System as one job or whether they should be separated, as they were before Alexander was hired. 

Back in April 2012, just as board appointees of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal became a majority, pugnacious LSU President John Lombardi was sent packing after detailing for the Legislature the problems, as he saw them, in Jindal’s plan for higher education. LSU Chancellor Michael Martin left soon thereafter.

The Board used an Association of Governing Boards’ analysis, which argued that turning the two jobs into one would increase research power and lower expenses. Jindal and the LSU Board agreed. Alexander was then hired after a secretive nationwide search.

Gov. John Bel Edwards says he would favor splitting the two jobs.

Sometimes the needs of the LSU System and the state’s flagship university are at cross purposes. And LSU is competing for students and funding with the much larger University of Louisiana System and Southern University System schools.

Former LSU Board Chairman James Williams, a New Orleans lawyer, was tapped as the head of the 20-member committee to replace Alexander.

After the search committee decides the position’s structure, it will determine the method of identifying interested parties and the means for reviewing their qualifications. The members won’t be working under established timelines but have been asked “to move deliberately in completing the search process.”

“We are ready to move forward, and we fully intend to conduct a thorough, yet expeditious, search process,” said Robert Dampf, the current LSU Board chair.

Presidential search committee

  • Committee Chair James Williams, Former chair, LSU Board of Supervisors from the Second Congressional District, New Orleans
  • Vice Chair Gabriela Gonzalez, Boyd Professor, LSU Department of Physics and Astronomy, Baton Rouge
  • Search Committee Members
  • Glenn Armentor, LSU Board of Supervisors from Third Congressional District, Lafayette
  • Verge Ausberry, LSU Executive Deputy Director of Athletics and Executive Director External Relations, Baton Rouge
  • Hannah Barrios, Vice President, LSU Student Government, Pollock
  • Chip Campbell, Alumnus and President of Campbell Companies, Shreveport
  • Clarence Cazalot, Alumnus and Chair of the LSU Foundation, Houston, Texas
  • Larry Clark, Chancellor, LSU Shreveport, Shreveport
  • Lester W. Johnson, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, LSU Health Monroe, Monroe
  • Jessica Jones, Director of Student Success, LSU Eunice, Eunice
  • Valencia Jones, LSU Board of Supervisors from the Fourth Congressional District, Natchitoches
  • Luke Laborde, Instructor, LSU School of Renewable Resources, Baton Rouge
  • Lori Martin, Professor, LSU Department of Sociology, Baton Rouge
  • Roland Mitchell, Dean, LSU College of Human Sciences and Education, Baton Rouge
  • Steve Nelson, Dean, LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans School of Medicine, New Orleans
  • Christel Slaughter, Alumna and co-owner of SSA Consultants, Baton Rouge
  • Tara Smith, Professor and Regional Director, LSU AgCenter Central Region , Alexandria
  • Rémy Starns, Board Chair-elect, LSU Board of Supervisors from the First Congressional District, Metairie
  • Takeyra Wagner, Education Technology Specialist and Staff Senate President at LSU Alexandria, Alexandria
  • Mary Leach Werner, Immediate Past Chair, LSU Board of Supervisors from the Third Congressional District, Lake Charles

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.