F. King Alexander

Advocate file photo of LSU president F. King Alexander as the Tigers host Vanderbilt, Saturday, March 9, 2019, at LSU's Pete Maravich Assembly Center in Baton Rouge, La. LSU won 80-59 and won the Southeastern Conference.

LSU will launch a nationwide search after Christmas to replace President F. King Alexander, who was tapped Friday to run Oregon State University after nearly seven years at the helm of Louisiana's flagship university. 

Hopefully, LSU Board Chair Mary Werner said, the hunt will avoid the controversy that marked past efforts to pick LSU's top leader.

Addressing the Oregon State's board of trustees shortly after they announced their decision Friday, Alexander said he was excited about joining the Beaver Nation, referring to the athletic team’s mascot.

"We are thrilled to be a part of this institution," he said. "Go Beeves."

Alexander will step down on Dec. 31. He will move into a faculty research and writing position for the next few months.

LSU announced Thomas Galligan, dean of LSU’s Paul M. Hebert Law Center and former president of Colby-Sawyer College as Alexander's interim replacement.

“I am excited about the opportunity to serve LSU during this time of transition, and I want to join the LSU community in celebrating the wonderful presidency of F. King Alexander and thanking him for his dedicated service," Galligan said in a statement.

Werner said in an interview Friday she wants more community involvement and more transparency than took place in previous searches, but wasn't ready to say how that would look and would make no commitments. 

“This is still very fresh, I only found out a few days ago,” Werner said. “We’re still putting the pieces together right now.”

LSU has a variety of needs, some of which could be addressed by academics, while others require the expertise of more pure administrators, she said. But she's not leaning one way or the other and is open to all candidates, even local ones as well as officials or faculty already working at LSU.

Louisiana natives Scott Woodward, the athletic director, and Ed Orgeron, the football coach, have done well and she would love to see someone from Louisiana, who knows the state’s culture. But Werner said she wouldn’t be giving extra points for locals.

Potential candidates in Louisiana or with state ties include Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne and Stephen Moret, the onetime head of LSU's fundraising arm. Neither Dardenne, who was in Costa Rico nor Moret, president and chief executive officer of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, could be reached for comment Friday.

“We do a lot of getting to know you and a lot of business in social situations. It does help, but it won’t be a deal breaker,” Werner said, noting that Alexander as well as luminaries like Nick Saban were uncomfortable with the endless rounds of crawfish boils, dinner parties and barbecues that come with having a top position at LSU.

“We’re looking for the best candidate,” Werner said, regardless of specific wants.

Meeting on the Corvallis, Oregon, campus, the Oregon State trustees moved unanimously to hire Alexander effective July 1 as the 15th president of the school. He was the winner of a six-month selection process that interviewed 68 candidates.

After the vote, the meeting adjourned and Alexander retired to a reception to meet alumni, faculty and university leaders.

Alexander told The Advocate later Friday that recruiters started talking to him in late April. He spoke with his higher education connections in California about the job. He began taking it seriously in July as the highly secretive Oregon State selection process chose him as among the finalists.

Alexander said Oregon supports its universities with greater annual funding than Louisiana.

He shepherded the LSU System through tough budgetary times when the Louisiana Legislature and then-Gov. Bobby Jindal slashed state appropriations for higher education by roughly half. Gov. John Bel Edwards stopped cutting university budgets in 2016.

Oregon State is looking at a 12.3% funding increase over the next two years. Alexander said. LSU hasn't "seen numbers like that" since Kathleen Blanco, Jindal's predecessor as governor, was in office.

He said the constant fighting for state appropriations wore him down, and he senses the battle will flare up again this spring in the state Legislature.

“I do feel like we are going into another war zone,” Alexander said. “It’ll be another dog fight. But we’re not keeping up with the nation.”

Alexander said he would help with the transition at LSU and probably remain in Baton Rouge into the spring. Alexander added that he and his wife, Shenette, are looking at the move to Oregon as their final one. "We thought this would be a good last move for us, where we could retire,” he said.

Top stories in Baton Rouge in your inbox

Twice daily we'll send you the day's biggest headlines. Sign up today.

Outgoing Oregon State President Ed Ray and Alexander had fought together in Washington, D.C. for affordable higher education, he noted.

In a statement, Edwards praised Alexander's time as president. “I want to thank President Alexander for his leadership over the last several years and certainly wish him the best of luck in his new role at Oregon State University," the governor said.

"He and I worked closely together during some of the toughest financial times for our state to avoid devastating budget cuts and to restore funding to LSU and all of our universities," the governor said.

Oregon State is in Corvallis, a town of about 55,000 between Eugene and Portland, Oregon. The university has a total undergraduate enrollment of 25,699 and is ranked 139 by U.S. News & World Report.

The LSU System has about 45,000 students, operates six campuses, two medical schools, a hospital, a cooperative extension service and a healthcare research institution. It also oversees the private administrators for the state’s charity hospitals. In addition to running the system, the LSU president also is chancellor of the flagship campus in Baton Rouge, which is ranked 153 by U.S. News & World Report.

Oregon State Board of Trustees Chair Rani Borkar said she had trouble getting her head around all that Alexander oversaw and accomplished at LSU. She cited his efforts to expand diversity among the student population and increase graduation rates at LSU. She wanted Alexander to do the same there.

“At OSU, we recognize that we are better together,” Borkar said.

Oregon State President Ray, who makes about $809,000 a year – roughly $100,000 more than Alexander, announced he would step down in June 2020 after leading the university for 17 years. Alexander said it is rare for a university leader to be in place for nearly two decades.

The LSU board evaluated Alexander’s job performance in October and voted to give him a raise.

Supervisors gave him A’s and B’s for his overall job performance. But supervisors also graded Alexander with Cs and Ds for the way he handled communications – some considered him as too controlling and not very open – as well as crisis management. He came under intense criticism for being unable to corral fraternities, which had several instances of misbehavior climaxing with the drunken death of a freshman on campus. He was criticized by the Board of Regents for unilaterally changing admissions standards. And leaders at colleges in other systems said Alexander often acted imperiously when higher education advocates wanted a united stand on some positions.

Werner said Alexander was aware of his shortcomings and wasn’t so self-absorbed that he didn’t work on them.

“All of us know there are areas where we could do better, King certainly was aware of that,” Werner said. “But in the end, his evaluation was very good and he was a very good president. We’re looking at far different landscape, in terms of budgetary future, student diversity, increased graduation and expanded research. We are a much stronger institution.”

The current and former chairmen of the Senate Education Committee praised Alexander's tenure.

"He was in the Legislature fighting for LSU," said Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, a former longtime chairman of the panel. "He had a national profile that brought respectability to LSU. He was a very steady hand."

The current chairman, Sen. Dan "Blade" Morrish, R-Lake Charles, echoed Appel's comments.

"If you look at where we are when he came in and where LSU is today, we are in better shape," Morrish said.

Alexander presided over the school during a time of repeated cuts in state aid for LSU and other colleges and universities. He said last year that, after a decade of repeated budget reductions, state aid for the school was about the same as it was in 1991.

Alexander won’t be lobbying the Louisiana Legislature in the session that begins March 9. Interim President Galligan will handle the legislative task along with Provost Stacia Haynie and Chief Financial Officer Dan Layzell. Democratic Gov. Edwards has said he wants to increase funding the state’s public colleges and universities. But Edwards faces staggering Republican majorities in both chambers and they have been reticent in the past to spend more on higher education.

Speculation about Alexander's status had surfaced repeatedly over the past few months.

A few weeks ago he was mentioned as a possible candidate for a university job in California.

Earlier this year he sparked a stir when he put his University Club home on the market prior to a move by him and his wife to a university-owned house close to campus.

"I have been hearing chatter for a long time," Appel said. "I think King stayed here longer than I expected."

Alexander, 56, came to LSU in July 2013 after heading Cal State Long Beach for seven years.

He is a Kentucky native grew up in Gainesville at the University of Florida and received his Ph.D. in higher education administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.