Ray Belton has spent 27 years working his way up from Southern University faculty member to chancellor of the two-year Shreveport campus.
On Monday, the Southern alumnus will take on the top job at the historically black university system — president and chancellor.
“I think I’m almost a by-product of what our mission speaks to,” said Belton, 62.
His wife, Norma, put it this way: “I believe if you cut him, he would bleed blue and gold.”
The Southern University System Board of Supervisors overwhelmingly approved Belton’s hire Friday after interviewing him and one other finalist for the job: White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities Deputy Director Ivory Toldson.
Board Chairman Leon Tarver said it was Belton’s years of administrative experience that likely gave him the edge over Toldson, an Obama-appointee and renowned HBCU expert who previously worked as a professor at Southern University.
“I think that made a difference,” Tarver said. “That experience paid off for (Belton).”
Belton follows Ronald Mason, whose tenure ended Friday after five years on the job.
The Board of Supervisors voted in August not to extend Mason’s contract past June 30, after months of infighting that prompted one board member to call for his immediate resignation.
Mason had said he wouldn’t even seek or accept an extension, unless certain terms were met. He recently was named the next president of the University of the District of Columbia.
The leadership change comes as the cash-strapped system has been struggling to keep its enrollment — and morale — up.
Belton’s move over to the system office and Baton Rouge campus — a newly merged position — means Southern will soon be in search of three new chancellors out of four.
Longtime Southern Agriculture Chancellor Leodrey Williams recently retired, and the board earlier gave Law School Chancellor Freddie Pitcher only a six-month contract extension through June.
The system also will be in search of a new vice president for finance and business affairs. Following Kevin Appleton’s recent departure, Gloria Matthews, a former special assistant to the vice president, has been named interim vice president.
But Tarver said he sees hope in the turnover.
“It’s a great time of opportunity for Southern University,” he said.
Belton said his first priority will be to figure out the new model for serving as president and chancellor, and what that will mean for operations on the Baton Rouge campus and at the system level. He noted that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools will have to sign off on the new operating structure.
“These are two distinct roles, occupied by one person,” Belton said. “There are still some unanswered questions.”
The board decided to merge the positions in March, hoping the move mimicking LSU’s merger from a few years ago would serve as a signal to state lawmakers that the HBCU system is trying to be more efficient.
Belton said he also would like to go on a statewide listening tour early on to gather input from Southernites and business leaders across Louisiana.
Belton graduated from Southern University at Shreveport and Southern University in Baton Rouge. He has a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin.
He said he wasn’t interested in pursuing further education when he first enrolled at Southern, but he decided to do so because he could go under the GI Bill, a veterans benefit that helps pay for college. He grew to love it and decided to pursue a career in academia.
“These experiences have ably prepared me to lead and achieve outcomes that support the interest of Southern University,” he told the board.
He said his greatest strengths are what the university system needs right now.
“I just believe in empowering people,” Belton said. “I’ve learned to be patient but still be persistent.”