Starting Sunday night the three finalists for LSU’s top job will start rotating through a gauntlet of meetings with faculty, students, and alumni as the search for a new president draws closer to a final decision.

The finalists are Kelvin Droegemeier, who was President Donald Trump’s science advisor; Jim Henderson, who is president of the University of Louisiana System’s nine public colleges; and William F. Tate IV, who is provost at the University of South Carolina.

One of the three likely will replace F. King Alexander, who was LSU System president and chancellor of the Baton Rouge campus for nearly seven years before leaving to lead Oregon State University.

A chancellor is responsible for a campus’s academic, fiscal, and administrative matters. 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, an agricultural center, research facilities and the flagship Baton Rouge campus, educating about 50,000 students.

Unlike the secretive process that led to Alexander’s 2013 hiring, the LSU Presidential Selection Committee this time released the paperwork on all 23 applicants, then selected the eight finalists and interviewed them in public. The vetting of the final three will be in public as well.

The first meeting starts Sunday night at 6:30 and the final meeting ends Wednesday at 2 p.m. The Board of Supervisors, who will make the final decision, is preparing for its next meeting, perhaps as early as Thursday, maybe Friday.

Their first stop for each finalist is meeting with the LSU Health Science – Shreveport, the medical school whose chancellor was recently suspended after allegations that he retaliated against faculty members reporting sexual harassment incidents. Dr. Ghali E. Ghali denies the claims.

While sexual misconduct has become a big issue on all campuses – just two weeks ago Tate issued a statement to reassure South Carolina students angered at a faculty member accused of sexually harassing a student – the scandal at LSU is arguably one of the more severe.

Reports of sexual predation on young female students were casually swept under the rug for years until media reports prompted an investigation by interim President Tom Galligan. The findings were so severe that their new employers forced the resignations of Alexander and former football coach Les Miles because of what happened on their watch at LSU. Two current employees were punished, two were transferred, and the university’s long-time law firm was fired.

Meanwhile, the university is wrestling with its racist past. A special committee is trying to figure out what to do about dozens of Confederate and segregationist iconographies scattered across campus.

Droegemeier, Henderson and Tate are vying to take on this milieu.

Henderson is the best known locally of the three candidates because since 2017 he’s led the state’s other system of public universities, one of the largest in the country, with three statewide research universities, five regional universities, one historically Black university and about 91,000 students.

“We operate under a common vision that embraces innovation, creativity, and growth,” Henderson said of his present posting. One of LSU’s key wants is better coordination between its institutions. “In collaboration with the nine university presidents, we developed a strategic framework that promises to produce the most educated generation in Louisiana history,” Henderson continued.

But none of the nine University of Louisiana System institutions rank very high in comparison to like colleges as shown in the recent U.S. News & World Report analysis. Among regional universities in the South, Nicholls State University, McNeese State, Northwestern, Grambling, and Southeastern come in between 80th and 133rd. Among national universities – those with more research and deeper doctoral programs – the University of New Orleans, Louisiana Tech, University of Louisiana Monroe, and the University of Louisiana Lafayette came in 298 to 389 in the U.S. News rankings.

LSU A&M Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s flagship, was ranked at only 153 nationally.

All of higher education in Louisiana was pummeled by a decade of decreasing state financial support that only recently has stopped and slightly reversed. The UL System lost more state money than LSU.

That has made Henderson a frequent visitor to the State Capitol, where he is universally liked by legislators and administration figures. Henderson publishes his cell phone number and picks up regardless of who is calling from a student to the governor.

Tate is considered one of the nation’s most prominent educational researchers, having published dozens of academic tracts – the most of the three finalists.

He became the University of South Carolina’s first African American provost – in charge of academics and curriculum – on July 1, 2020 after landing among the finalists for that university’s presidency a few months earlier. He had been a candidate for chancellor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville the year before.

Tate had been dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, vice provost for graduate education at the elite Washington University in St. Louis, where he had been on the faculty since 2002.

In his previous job interviews, Tate pressed the need for accessibility to allow more rural, low income and minority students to continue their education at higher level. It’s a goal he shares with the LSU Board of Supervisors. LSU recently began changes in admissions procedures, expansion of scholarship opportunities and ways to help students who don’t come from traditional backgrounds.

“As a product of the investments in public universities, I embrace LSU System’s mission to foster ‘first-class learning, the discovery of innovations and the development of Louisiana’s human capital’ by applying research and scholarship in advancing intellectual, personal, and professional growth,” Tate told his interlocutors.

But South Carolina also is having a sexual harassment problem with The State, the daily newspaper in Columbia, S.C., reporting 107 complaints lodged by students between November 2019 and November 2020.

Since Tate arrived on campus, he has been criticized by students demanding he fire accused faculty rather than suspend them. Protesters in April marched under slogans like “protect students, not abusers,” arguing that removing accused faculty from the classroom is not enough. Tate wasn't questioned about it by LSU.

An expert on extreme-weather events with a 35-year career in higher education, Droegemeier has been vice-president for research at the University of Oklahoma and that state’s secretary of science and technology. He served on the National Science Board, which oversees the National Science Foundation, under presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

But his most prominent posting was as head of White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and informal science advisor to then President Trump.

Trump had an uneasy relationship with the scientific community and as the face of science in the Trump White House, the affable Droegemeier disappointed his colleagues, according to an October 2020 article in Science magazine, published by American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington D.C.

Scientists had hoped Droegemeier “might produce some small victories for the research community.”

“Observers say there is scant evidence that Droegemeier,” according to Science magazine, “has tried to mitigate any of the administration’s most controversial policies relating to science and innovation. The list includes its chaotic approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, rolling back a slew of environmental regulations, restricting immigration, and proposing deep cuts in the budgets of most federal research agencies.”

Droegemeier wasn't questioned about the criticism but does have a record of finding funding for scholarly projects – a need for LSU – and for working with leading research institutions.

Top stories in Baton Rouge in your inbox

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

“Higher education needs to re-think models of co-investment with alumni and other partners, more effectively leverage corporate engagement for mutual benefit to both education and research and play a greater role in local and regional economic and community development,” Droegemeier said.

Schedule of meetings for finalists

James Henderson, D.M., System President and Chief Executive Officer University of Louisiana System

Sunday, May 2:

• LSU Shreveport/LSU Health Shreveport Forum, 6:30-7 p.m., streamed on LSUS Facebook

Monday, May 3:

• Student & Instruction Forum from 10-11 a.m., streamed on Zoom (Passcode: 979315)

• Research & Scholarly Work Forum from 1-2 p.m., streamed on Zoom (Passcode: 830502)

Kelvin Droegemeier, Ph.D., Former Director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) (2021) United States Federal Government

Monday, May 3:

• LSU Shreveport/LSU Health Shreveport Forum, 6:30-7 p.m., streamed on LSUS Facebook

Tuesday, May 4:

• Student & Instruction Forum from 10-11 a.m., streamed on Zoom (Passcode: 739109)

• Research & Scholarly Work Forum from 1-2 p.m., streamed on Zoom (Passcode: 529864)

William Tate IV, Ph.D., University of South Carolina Education Foundation Distinguished Professor and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs

Tuesday, May 4:

• LSU Shreveport/LSU Health Shreveport Forum, 6:30-7 p.m., streamed on LSUS Facebook

Wednesday, May 5:

• Student & Instruction Forum from 10-11 a.m., streamed on Zoom (Passcode: 435203)

• Research & Scholarly Work Forum from 1-2 p.m., streamed on Zoom (Passcode: 457645)

Candidate Resumés

William Tate IV, Ph.D., University of South Carolina Education Foundation Distinguished Professor and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs

Education

  • Washington University School of Medicine, Master of Psychiatric Epidemiology
  • University of Maryland, PhD in Mathematics Education
  • University of Texas at Dallas, Master of Arts in Teaching
  • Northern Illinois University, Bachelor of Science in Economics

Professional Employment

  • University of South Carolina, Provost, July 1, 2020 to date
  • Washington University in St. Louis, Dean, Graduate School & Vice Provost for Graduate Education, 2014 to 2020
  • Washington University, professor, 2002 to 2020
  • Texas Christian University, professor, 2001-2002
  • University of Wisconsin, professor, 1992-2002

James Henderson, D.M., System President and Chief Executive Officer University of Louisiana System

Education

  • University of Maryland - University College, Doctor of Management
  • University of West Florida, Human Performance Technology specialization
  • Northwestern State University, Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and English

Professional Employment

  • University of Louisiana System, 2017 to date.
  • Northwestern State University, president, 2015 – 2017.
  • Bossier Parish Community College, chancellor, 2009 – 2014.
  • Louisiana Community and Technical College System, Senior Vice President for Workforce & Economic Development, 2005 – 2009.

Kelvin Droegemeier, Ph.D., Former Director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Education

  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Masters in Atmospheric Science
  • University of Oklahoma, Bachelor of Science in Meteorology

Professional Employment

  • Director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, 2019 to 2021.
  • Acting Director, National Science Foundation, 2020
  • Vice President for Research, University of Oklahoma, 2009-2018
  • Weathernews Chair Emeritus of Applied Meteorology, University of Oklahoma, 2009-Present
  • Director Emeritus, Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms, University of Oklahoma, 2006-Present

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.