Six years after selecting F. King Alexander to lead Louisiana’s premier public university, the LSU Board of Supervisors will be picking a new leader. Alexander was named Friday as president of Oregon State University.
If the LSU board wants to rebuild confidence, it can start by pledging not to conduct an illegal search, as it did in 2013.
That year, in an effort to shield their deliberations from the public, the board constructed a fiction: That only one person had applied for one of the most prestigious jobs in higher education. There were 35 active candidates, but the board insisted that they were not “applicants” to get around the legal requirement that it disclose the names of those who sought the position. So by their logic, Alexander was the only one who applied.
The board relied on bad legal advice from Shelby McKenzie, who urged the panel’s chairman at the time, Blake Chatelain, to correspond through his personal email, circumventing Louisiana’s Public Records Law.
The Advocate and The Times-Picayune sued, and 19th Judicial District Judge Janice Clark rejected the board’s fictional definition of an applicant. She ordered the names of the candidates be released.
The board got more bad advice from another attorney, Jimmy Faircloth, who told the panel to violate Clark’s order.
The board sat in contempt of court for four months, and a $500 fine piled on every time the clock struck midnight.
It was an embarrassment to students and faculty and alumni who love LSU, a violation of the board’s duty to Louisiana’s taxpayers, and a poor example for a school that is training Louisiana’s next generation of lawyers.
Months later, the board relented and released the names of the finalists.
Alexander backed the board’s illegal secret search, saying he would not have been a candidate for the job if the names of applicants were released.
But this year, Alexander was mentioned as a candidate for two higher education jobs in California, and he did not seem bothered when his name became public.
“It’s a great place,” Alexander told The Los Angeles Times. “California public higher education is kind of like the Rose Bowl — the granddaddy of them all.”
Alexander has been a successful leader, fighting deep cuts to higher education, growing the university, and rebuilding pride in LSU. He has pushed to grow undergraduate enrollment amid some controversy over admissions policies. His focus has been on the undergraduate side; research, not so much, but even so LSU has gained new lustre for its long-standing participation in Nobel Prize-winning experiments on Einstein's theories of the universe.
But for the future, the public and the LSU community should not tolerate another illegal presidential search, and the board should commit to getting better advice this time around.