Members of the LSU Board of Supervisors and the Jindal administration began discussing the fate of former LSU System President John Lombardi months ago but the governor didn’t push the board to fire him, a board member said Monday.
Another board member said the perception that Gov. Bobby Jindal had his fingerprints on Lombardi’s firing will make it difficult for LSU to attract anyone other than a “yes-man” or a “puppet” to lead the system.
Lombardi replaced William Jenkins, 75, who is coming out of retirement to serve as interim head of LSU’s $3.5 billion network of four university campuses, a law school, two medical schools and 10 hospitals across the state.
Jenkins said Monday the board leadership contacted him early last week about coming out of retirement.
Lombardi’s career at LSU ended Friday after nearly five years when the LSU board voted 12-4 to fire him.
During the heated debate before the vote, Lombardi’s supporters on the board suggested his firing was secretly orchestrated by the governor.
Jindal did not answer questions on the issue last week.
His communications director, Kyle Plotkin, said in a prepared statement it was a decision for the LSU board.
On Monday, LSU Board member Steve Perry said Lombardi’s dismissal, which he voted for, wasn’t done behind closed doors.
Rather, he said, it took shape informally over the course of several months.
“This is the absolute truth,” Perry said. “A couple of us on the board had been talking with each other. The feeling that we were headed in the wrong direction really started to grow in January.”
Perry, of New Orleans, along with board member Bobby Yarborough, of Baton Rouge, and board Chairman Hank Danos, of Larose, all have said Lombardi’s sometimes-abrasive leadership style compromised his ability to build relationships with policymakers.
Lombardi turned heads while speaking to the state House Education Committee on Wednesday when he accused state lawmakers of “radically restructuring” how higher education is managed.
He was arguing against House Bill 395, which would shift control of how state funds are spent to the Louisiana Board of Regents and away from the management boards overseeing the Southern, LSU, University of Louisiana and Louisiana Community and Technical College systems.
Lombardi was arguing on behalf of the LSU board, but his cutting words toward legislators were counterproductive, Perry said.
“That was validation that we’d lost the ability to have significant influence with the Legislature at a time when it was really needed,” Perry said.
Jindal’s staff understood the frustration with Lombardi but urged the board members to be patient before making a decision on the president’s future, Perry said.
“I probably had five or six conversations with the administration over a long period. The respect I’ve been treated with by the administration is exactly what I wanted,” said Perry, who was appointed by Jindal in July. “They shared our discomfort with things at LSU.”
Perry is also one of six board members chosen to be on the committee to find Lombardi’s replacement.
He took offense to the suggestion by Lombardi supporters that Jindal will have the final say on leads LSU.
“That’s demeaning to those on the board. We all have a passion for higher education. I was picked because of my knowledge of higher education,” Perry said.
But LSU Board member Tony Falterman, who is not on the search committee, argued Monday that no credible candidate will want to come to LSU after seeing how Lombardi was treated.
Falterman, of Napoleonville, said he believes Lombardi’s opponents, including Jindal appointees to the LSU Board and members of the Flagship Coalition, a group of statewide business leaders formed last year to support the Baton Rouge campus, worked together to dismiss the president.
“The way the whole thing went down was horrible,” said Falterman, who was appointed by Gov. Kathleen Blanco and whose term on the LSU expires June 1.
“For board members to say publicly they were having problems with John, why didn’t they talk about it in front of the full board? The way these guys acted, who would want to come to LSU, unless they are a yes-man or a puppet?”
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