Jindal names new members to Southern University System board _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- La. Gov. Bobby Jindal

Gov. Bobby Jindal dealt a diverse hand to Southern University on Wednesday, naming five new appointees to the system’s Board of Supervisors. Among them are a central Louisiana businessman, a former prosecutor who is making a return to the board, a mechanical engineer, a specialist at an alumina refinery and a doctor who dabbles in hip-hop.

It remains to be seen what the new members will mean for the cash-strapped historically black university system’s search for a new president, which had been put on hold pending Jindal’s decision on filling the five vacancies that came open Jan. 1.

The Board of Supervisors will meet Friday and is expected to discuss the presidential search.

The old board voted 9-4 against extending President Ronald Mason Jr.’s contract beyond its June 30 expiration date. The members, whose terms expired Dec. 31 either voted against Mason’s extension or were absent. Jindal could have reappointed any of the outgoing members, but the five named late Wednesday are all new faces.

The new appointees are:

  • Gaines and Company Inc. CEO Curman Gaines, of Alexandria, who previously served as executive director of the Central Louisiana Business Incubator
  • Donald Ray Henry, of Donaldsonville, a Noranda Alumina technical specialist
  • Manitowoc Company senior mechanical engineer Richard Hilliard, of Shreveport
  • Voorhies & Labbé attorney Pat Magee, of Lafayette, who was formerly assistant district attorney for the 15th Judicial District and served on the Southern board from 2008 to 2012
  • Dr. Rani Whitfield, a Baton Rouge doctor and health advocate known as “Tha Hip-Hop Doc.”

Members whose terms expired Dec. 31 were Darren Mire, of New Orleans; Walter Dumas and Murphy Bell, of Baton Rouge; Myron Lawson, of Alexandria; and the board’s past chairwoman, Bridget Dinvaut, of LaPlace.

Mire was absent the day that the board voted against Mason’s contract extension. The rest of the former members voted against Mason.

Mason said he wouldn’t have accepted a contract extension and didn’t want one because the board didn’t agree to a list of demands that would have given him more power to work on a strategy for Southern’s future.

A search committee that Dinvaut tasked with finding a replacement for Mason before the end of 2014 had set out on an ambitious timeline and had advertised the job in higher education publications before the board eventually called off the search in November.

Faculty, alumni and others had expressed doubt over the quick turnaround.

Still, many admitted that the search had been expedited out of fear over who Jindal would name to the board at the start of the year and whether they would call for a revote on Mason. Mason, who served as president of Jackson State University for a decade before taking the job at Southern in 2010, does have some backing on the system board, and it’s unclear where the new appointees stand.

Board member the Rev. Samuel Tolbert said he wasn’t familiar with the newly appointed members Wednesday night, except Magee.

“I don’t know what they plan on doing,” he said of what could be ahead for Southern’s leadership.

Tolbert has previously called for Mason’s resignation. He said the new board should find a temporary leader and remove Mason even before his contract runs out this summer.

“We need to get an interim president and go ahead and move forward,” Tolbert said.

The presidential search process has held up searches for three new chancellors. Board members have said they want to have a new president before finding new leaders for the Baton Rouge campus, law school and agricultural unit.

Longtime finance administrator Flandus McClinton Jr. is serving indefinitely as interim Baton Rouge campus chancellor while the system board weighs its options for moving forward. The ouster of former Chancellor James Llorens created tension on campus and criticism directed at Mason.

The Faculty Senate approved a resolution in November urging the board to delay the presidential search process, name an interim president before the end of the year and place Mason on sabbatical for the rest of his contract.

The Southern system board appointments weren’t the only higher education positions Jindal filled Wednesday.

To the state Board of Regents, the governor named Pelican Gas Management vice president Claudia Adley, of Benton; former Bollinger Shipyards President Chris Bollinger, of Lockport; Matilda Stream Management President William Gray Stream, of Lake Charles; and business consultant and former LSU basketball player Collis Temple III, of Baton Rouge.

Jindal also reappointed Atco Investment managing partner Ed Crawford III, of Shreveport, and Guico Industries CEO David Guidry, of New Orleans, to the University of Louisiana System board.

New appointees to the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors are: Egan Healthcare Services co-owner Pamela Egan, of Covington, and State Farm Insurance agent Shawn Murphy, of Jonesboro.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of Louisiana state government and politics, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.