The chairwoman of the LSU Board of Supervisors reaffirmed her commitment today to conducting a national search to replace former President F. King Alexander, who stepped down in late December after accepting a position to head Oregon State University.
But while the board is looking for a new president, it will also look at the office of the presidency itself and consider structural changes that could include creating a new position for a top administrator to oversee the LSU A&M campus in Baton Rouge.
“We, the board, are really going to take our time because there are so many questions within the board, the university, the Baton Rouge campus and the larger global community,” says board chair Mary Werner. “What does the position of the president look like when we name the new president? Are we going to keep it as it is? Are we going to restructure it? Or, does it suit LSU better to have some sort of officer over the A&M campus and then a systemwide president?”
The Baton Rouge campus used to have its own administrator. But in early 2013, the board merged the positions of president and chancellor as part of a systemwide restructuring that sought to create a more cohesive, united and efficient LSU.
Alexander was the first administrator to hold the joint president-chancellor position and oversaw implementation of the new One Baton Rouge movement, as it was called. But with the changes came growing pains, and some have argued that the best interests of the flagship campus are not served by one administrator wearing two hats.
“Every constituency I have talked to has encouraged me and the board to spend, not a long time, but to spend dedicated time to answering this question and making the right choice,” Werner says.
If the board does split the position in two again, that does not mean undoing the efficiencies and gains that have come from One Baton Rouge, she says. Nor does it necessarily mean reverting to the old president-chancellor model.
“This would be for the management of the A&M campus,” she says. “But I hate to even use the word chancellor because I don’t want people to think we’re going back to the way it was before. We’re looking at all sorts of models from around the country.”
Whatever it ultimately looks like, Werner acknowledges that splitting the positions would potentially clear the way for the board to select a new president who lacks the higher education credentials that faculty and other stakeholders would demand in a chancellor or chancellor equivalent.
Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne, who doesn’t have a Ph.D., has been mentioned for months as a favorite for the position and has publicly said he would have to consider the dream job if offered.
Werner says while she has heard the chatter about Dardenne and other potential candidates, she insists no one has discussed specific names with her or tried to influence her decision to call for an open transparent search.
How long might it take for this process to play out?
“I’m trying to be as optimistic but also as realistic as I can be,” she says. “This is going to be like nine months on the short end of the deal.”