Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne says he is not bitter that the LSU Presidential Search Committee did not name him to the short list of finalists for the university’s top job.
“The decision does nothing to dampen my love and support of LSU,” Dardenne says. “I’m an LSU person through and through.”
Dardenne, who received his undergraduate and law degrees from LSU, was one of eight semifinalists to interview for the position earlier this week but, to the surprise of many, was not among the three finalists announced late Wednesday.
Dardenne was widely considered to be one of the stronger candidates going into the interviews, with support from Gov. John Bel Edwards and decades of experience dealing with public budgets, state government and the Legislature.
When his name was first floated for the position in early 2020, the board was mulling whether to split the presidency into two positions—with a president to handle business matters systemwide and a chancellor to deal specifically with the Baton Rouge campus.
Under that scenario, Dardenne would have been a natural for the president’s position while an academician with more traditional higher ed credentials could have been recruited for the No. 2 spot.
But in the months since, the board decided to search for just a single leader, which Dardenne acknowledges put him at something of a competitive disadvantage.
“I knew going in I was a nontraditional candidate without the academic background the faculty was looking for,” he says. “But I felt my experience and qualifications well beyond academia qualified me for the position.”
Dardenne attempted to address the issue head on during his Monday afternoon interview.
“I made no secret about my belief that we should reconsider the structure of leadership, but obviously the committee didn’t agree,” he says. “I wanted to apply knowing it was a singular job hoping to provoke a discussion about the leadership structure.”
Still, while Dardenne may not have ultimately been hired for the position, sources familiar with the committee’s deliberations say he had strong support among a cross section of the 16-member panel and initially made the short list of finalists, which includes former White House policy adviser Kelvin Droegemeier, University of Louisiana President Jim Henderson and University of South Carolina Provost Bill Tate.
Tate had initially applied for the position but then withdrew his name from consideration early last week and was not on the list of semifinalists the search committee selected at its April 21 meeting to invite for interviews
At that meeting, Board Chair James Williams and search committee consultant Laurie Wilder told the committee that if any additional candidates came forward with a late application, they could be considered but only if the committee was reconvened before Monday for a public meeting to discuss the applicant.
“The reality is we’ve decided on the people we are going to interview,” Williams said, as he was concluding the meeting on April 21. “There are no more for us to interview. We don’t have another public meeting coming up. We’re not going to do anything by Zoom, on the back of a napkin, or on the telephone in the dark of night. This is the list of people we will interview. If something changes we will get back together appropriately in a publicly called meeting.”
Tate’s name was added to the list four days later, when the committee reconvened to begin the interview process. His name was presented to the committee Monday morning during the orientation prior to the first interview, an LSU spokesman says.
Williams said earlier today that Tate’s name was brought forward by the search firm, Parker Executive Search, late Friday.
Dardenne declined to comment on the process today but says he respects the decision and plans to continue his term as the state’s chief budget officer through the next two-and-a-half years of the Edwards administration.
“I absolutely will stick around. I have no designs on any other job and I enjoy what we’re doing,” he says. “We’re in a good place and i think we’re going to be in a better place. Clearly, the governor and I discussed that before I applied. He was supportive then and he is happy to have me here as we are.”
(Editor’s Note: This story has been revised to clarify when William Tate’s name was added to the list of interview candidates.)