LSU Hospitals

Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, Gov. John Bel Edwards' chief budget adviser, speaks to the Louisiana State University Board of Supervisors.

Frequently mentioned as LSU’s next leader by internet bloggers and radio talk show hosts, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne said finally that he’s interested in the job, though he won’t decide whether to apply until after the search process is in place.

“The only job in government that I would be interested in, other than this one (Commissioner of Administration), would be that presidency. But, at the end of the day I want to do what’s best for LSU and I want LSU to do what’s best for LSU,” Dardenne told The Advocate in an interview. Dardenne had kept a low profile about the job and previously dismissed the possibility when asked about his interest.

And he’s been asked a lot recently now that LSU President F. King Alexander was announced earlier this month as the next president of Oregon State University.

The current chair of the LSU Board, Mary Werner, said Dec. 13, the day Alexander announced his intentions, that the 16-member board would conduct a sweeping nationwide search, then choose the best available candidate. She said that process and timeline will be announced after the holidays.

LSU has administrative needs and it has academic needs, she said. Plus, after years of cuts in state appropriations – the state gives public colleges and universities about half the amount given a dozen years ago – higher education is starting to receive small bits of money rather than budget cuts. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards promised an even higher amount in the plan for state spending in the fiscal year beginning July 1. But the Louisiana Legislature has more conservative Republicans than in the past, which could mean a tougher road for that increased funding. 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.

Werner said the presidential search will take all those factors into account and the choice of the next leader for LSU will be the best person available – rather than the one who best fits one specific need over another. Louisiana candidates, as well as those already working for LSU, are welcome to apply, though she won’t give extra points just because they are local.

Dardenne didn’t directly answer the question of whether he would apply.

“I would expect anybody who is ultimately accepted to have to apply and that would include me,” Dardenne said. “I will wait and see what the process involves before I say anything officially.”

Born and raised in Baton Rouge, Dardenne, 65, had been president of student government back in his student days at LSU. As such, he sat on the LSU Board of Supervisors in the early 1980s.

A lifelong Republican – he distributed Barry Goldwater for President literature with his mother as a child – Dardenne was elected to the East Baton Rouge Metro Council in 1987. Then in 1991, Dardenne was elected to the state Senate District 16 seat covering the southeastern part of East Baton Rouge Parish, where much of LSU’s faculty and staff – including its president – live. He chaired the Senate Finance Committee, through which the state budget and higher education spending passes.

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Dardenne served as secretary of state from 2006 to 2010, when he was elected lieutenant governor. Dardenne ran for governor in 2015 and came in fourth.

He endorsed Edwards in the 2015 runoff against Republican candidate David Vitter at an event outside the LSU Student Union. Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South, then tapped Republican Dardenne as his chief financial advisor. The Commissioner of Administration basically runs the day-to-day operations of state government for the governor.

Dardenne’s name surfaced as president of LSU earlier in 2019 when Alexander was criticized by major donors on a myriad of issues, but Dardenne always dismissed such speculation as did Edwards.

In the week following Alexander’s resignation, which takes effect on Tuesday, Edwards was asked about Dardenne possibly assuming the leadership role at the state’s flagship university.

“I’m not going to say it’s not possible,” Edwards said in response to a question on his monthly “Ask the Governor” radio show. “He’s been a great commissioner of administration. I don’t have a crystal ball to know exactly what his interest level is or what the board will do.”

Edwards added that anytime a position at LSU opens up, Dardenne’s name is floated, and that he has an “excellent resume.”

The LSU System has about 45,000 students, operates six campuses, two medical schools, a hospital, a cooperative extension service, a healthcare research institution and has oversight of 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.

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 until a new president is chosen and seated.

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