LSU Presidential Search

LSU Presidential Search Committee Chair James Williams, a New Orleans lawyer and member of the LSU Board of Supervisors, right, and Vice Chair Gabriela González, of the LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy during the panel’s meeting on Wednesday, April 21, 2021, when the eight semi-finalists for LSU System President/Chancellor of the Baton Rouge campus were selected.

Three journalism majors from Louisiana were the first up to be interviewed Monday by the committee vetting candidates for LSU’s top leader.

But the first of two days of interviews saw the only woman among the eight semi-finalists, Mary Rankin, the former chancellor of the University of Maryland, remove her name from contention. LSU wouldn’t say why and Rankin did not return calls.

Meanwhile, the provost at the University of South Carolina, William F. Tate IV, put in his application at the last minute. He will be among the five semi-finalists interviewed Tuesday.

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.

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

But Monday was for the two best known candidates to rank-and-file Louisiana taxpayers: Jim Henderson runs the University of Louisiana System’s nine state colleges with 90,000 students and a $1.3 billion operating budget. And Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne has been elected to two statewide offices and now drafts the state’s $37 billion budget plus is in charge of the day-to-day operation of state government.

The first candidate interviewed was Laurence Alexander, who has been has been chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, an historically Black college and university, since 2013.

Alexander was a widely published and tenured professor while dean of the journalism school at the University of Florida for two decades before moving to Arkansas. Alexander grew up in New Orleans 9th Ward, graduated from the University of New Orleans and juris doctorate from Tulane University Law School. He worked as reporter for the Times-Picayune and the Houma Courier before heading into an academic career.

Unsurprisingly, one of the key questions asked during the interviews was about the ongoing scandal at LSU in which administrators failed to properly handle and often covered up complaints of sexual misconduct raised young female students.

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The national attention to the mishandling of allegations has led to litigation and legislative hearings. LSU Board of Supervisors and interim President Tom Galligan are putting together detailed protocols for handling such complaints and strict punishments for those who do not, along with spending $1 million to open an enlarged office staffed by more investigators and experts in Title IX, the federal regulations that govern sexual harassment.

But the new LSU president/chancellor will be walking into a volatile situation, probably in the summer. Each candidate was asked how they would handle it.

Alexander said: “We must break through the size of the institution and the bureaucracy of an institution and get to the heart of the matter with empathy and with caring and with follow up, keeping victims and folks who report these informed and engaged with the process.”

Henderson graduated with a journalism degree from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, which he later led. He pointed out that Title IX were regulations for institutions to follow, but the problems of sexual harassment go beyond a checklist of rules.

“We cannot comply ourselves into the culture we should be,” Henderson said. “You have to have an apparatus within your university, outside of the regulatory that is truly advocating for the victim with that claimant and providing them with the restorative work that needs to take place with trauma intervention.”

Dardenne was president of student government and graduated with a journalism degree followed by a law degree at LSU. He said the Title IX office and protocols being developed need to be centralized at the system level.

“All this has got to be done in the in the context of remembering … it's a cultural issue,” Dardenne said. “The culture needs to change. And it needs to change in a way where people understand – men more than women, because they're more often the perpetrators – that this is not acceptable behavior, and a university campus is the place where that needs to be magnified.”

Tuesday’s schedule of interviews includes:

  • 9:00 a.m. – 10:15 a.m.: Kelvin Droegemeier, Ph.D., Former Director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, U.S. Government
  • 10:15 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. Break
  • 10:30 a.m. – 11:45 a.m.: Ronald (Ron) Clark, M.A., Major General & Chief of Staff, United States Indo-Pacific Command, Camp H. M. Smith, Hawaii, United States Army
  • 11:45 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Lunch
  • 12:30 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.: Lt. Gen. (Ret) Jeffrey (Jeff) Talley, Ph.D., President & CEO of The P3i Group, LLC
  • 1:45 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. Break
  • 2:00 p.m. – 3:15 p.m.: Rustin M. Moore, DVM, Ph.D., Professor and Dean, College of Veterinary Medicine, The Ohio State University
  • 3:15 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. Break Until: Final Discussion
  • 3:30 p.m. – 4:45 p.m. William Tate IV, Provost, University of South Carolina.
  • 4:45 p.m. – Final Discussion

For Zoom webinar information for each of the candidate interviews, please visit https://www.lsu.edu/president-search/candidates/index.php


Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.