Gov. John Bel Edwards supports splitting up the leadership at LSU into two positions--a chancellor to helm the main campus and a president to oversee the statewide system--a move that would end the system’s current president-chancellor position that has been in place for the past roughly seven years.
Speaking to reporters after a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce event in downtown Baton Rouge on Tuesday, Edwards said after watching it play out for several years, he doesn’t think “the institution is better served” by having one person fill both roles.
“I don’t think one person can do everything that’s expected of them, to both run the A&M campus in Baton Rouge and the system,” Edwards said. “Because you want your chancellor present at events on campus but also to do fundraising specific for the campus at A&M university, whereas the system president has to do that all across the state of Louisiana.”
The governor’s comments come more than seven years after former Gov. Bobby Jindal called for consolidation of the LSU system president and LSU Baton Rouge chancellor into one job. Subsequently, the LSU Board of Supervisors, filled mostly with Jindal appointees, merged the positions and hired F. King Alexander to fill the job. Alexander stepped down in December and will leave the university this spring to helm Oregon State University.
As the school prepares to search for its next leader, Edwards’ top lieutenant, Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, has expressed interest in the job. Dardenne, who has served as an East Baton Rouge metro councilman, state senator, lieutenant governor and secretary of state, ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2015 as a Republican against Edwards, but backed the Democrat in a runoff over former U.S. Sen. David Vitter. As a result, he was given a top post in Edwards’ administration.
Once a student member of the LSU board, Dardenne said in December the head job at LSU would be the only other position in government he’d go for, but he said he would not apply until after a search process is in place. LSU Board Chair Mary Werner last week told the Baton Rouge Business Report the board would evaluate the structure of its leadership as part of its search for a new leader.
Edwards currently holds 11 of the 15 seats on the LSU Board of Supervisors, excluding the student position. In June, the terms of four businessmen appointed by Jindal will expire, giving Edwards the entirety of the board appointments. The four members whose terms are ending are Ronald Anderson, president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation; Blake Chatelain, an Alexandria bank executive; James Moore, a Monroe hotel developer and Bobby Yarborough, the CEO of Manda Fine Meats.
The decision to merge the president and chancellor positions in 2012 came after the school hired consultants who made a slate of recommendations aimed at making the system more efficient. The faculty senate president at the time filed a complaint with the school’s accrediting body over the move, complaining about the process. Faculty also decried the secretive nature of the search for president in 2013.
This time around, the faculty senate has requested a seat on the search committee for top leadership positions, said Faculty Senate President Mandi Lopez, and she said faculty expects an “open, transparent, nationwide search.”
Lopez said it is an “onerous task” to have one person responsible for the entire system along with LSU’s flagship campus. But the best leadership is connected to the LSU community they lead, she said.
“The most important aspect or characteristic is that this person has experienced the profession of a faculty member,” Lopez said. “In general, we believe you have to have lived it to lead it. If you have participated in the faculty teaching, research and service, then it is most likely you will represent them at the highest level.”
At the time of the move, Jindal said consolidating the two positions save millions of dollars by ridding duplication in the central offices and help various schools and colleges within LSU work together. LSU has nine institutions, including the flagship Baton Rouge campus and medical school in New Orleans.
Edwards said the staff structure doesn’t necessarily need to change if the board decides to return to having both jobs. He said many of the “efficiencies” of the move could be maintained.
He also said that despite Dardenne’s interest in the LSU job, he hasn’t had any conversations with him about Dardenne leaving, and he expects he will continue to serve as commissioner of administration “going forward.”