No final decision was made on the future structure of the LSU presidency Wednesday afternoon, when the LSU Board of Supervisors received the preliminary report from an independent consulting firm that studied the options of possibly amending the roles of the system's top position.
Currently, Interim LSU President Tom Galligan oversees the system's eight campuses, and, since former President F. King Alexander left for Oregon State in December, there has been widespread discussion whether the leadership structure should change.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, who appointed 11 of the 15 members on the board, has supported splitting the presidency into two positions: a chancellor to oversee the Baton Rouge campus, and a president to oversee the statewide system.
Multiple supervisors voiced opposition against such a split during Wednesday's special meeting, wanting to instead preserve or further support LSU's president with a larger staff.
AGB Consulting did not offer a singular recommendation, although a few supervisors pressed the firm for a suggestion.
The company was the same firm LSU hired in 2012, when the system decided to merge the president and chancellor positions in an effort to make the system more efficient.
The nearly 100 faculty, staff, students and university supporters the firm interviewed in its roughly $71,000 study did not have a clear preference on what LSU's leadership should look like, AGB senior consultant Carol Cartwright said, but instead they provided context and information that led to five different options LSU's supervisors could choose:
- Maintain LSU's current leadership structure
- Maintain the structure but add resources within the president's office
- Maintain the structure but add an empowered provost in Baton Rouge
- Establish a chancellor at LSU's Baton Rouge campus
- Establish a chancellor and add resources within the president's office
LSU Board Chair Mary Werner said the consulting firm will submit a final report next week. There is no firm timeline for a final decision, she said.
"We're not in a rush," Werner said. "We're obviously in this extraordinary time and I want to be sure everyone is comfortable with the information we received before we take our next steps."
The coronavirus pandemic somewhat disrupted the special meeting — supervisors met via video teleconference — and, due to the virus' affect on the economy, thus higher education budgets, Werner said "it would be naïve" to say the board's final decision on LSU's leadership structure would go untouched.
"I think it will be affected at some level," Werner said. "What that level is, I don't know at this time. We'll have to wait and see."
Naturally, the firm pointed out in its presentation, the more added positions and resources would cost more money.
Senior consultant George Pernsteiner acknowledged LSU has not had a history of lavish funding, from the budget cuts under former Gov. Bobby Jindal, to recent research Pernsteiner found that ranked Louisiana 49th out the nation's 50 states in higher education funding.
There appeared to be a consensus that, whatever the choice, things could not remain the same.
"The one thing that everyone, I think, agrees on," said supervisor Stephen Perry, a supporter of the singular president model, "is that the president has needed more help for years."
Supervisor Remy Starns said the 19 people LSU has in the president's office "is not enough."
In the second option, where LSU only provides additional resources to the president's office, the firm said they received feedback from their interviews that a Chief Operating Officer position could be created, which could free up the president for external relations.
Or, if they wanted to pursue further measures in the third option, LSU could bolster an empowered provost that becomes part of the president's cabinet and be the head of LSU's campus and responsible for academic functions. In this case, the president would remain the external face of the Baton Rouge campus and focus on funding and athletics.
A full-blown chancellor in options four and five could hold almost the entire responsibility of the Baton Rouge campus, while the president focuses on the LSU System as a whole.
In the end, LSU could use the resources of the final report and create their own unique system — apart from the options presented — but the firm's members emphasized that whatever decision the board makes, they must clearly define the roles of the president and any other position that's created.
"One thing is clear: there is not a one-size fits all in terms of structure in higher education," Perry said in the meeting. "We've had different things work at different times. The structure itself is not the magic fit."