Letter: LSU needs an academic

Your “Inside Report” Dec 28 correctly takes the LSU search for president/chancellor to task for quietly “dropping academic credentials” from its employment ad. It is becoming clear that this “search” is, as feared and rumored, a cover to push a political crony into a job that has enormous influence on health care and hospitals in our state. Academics and the status of a flagship public university simply do not count to the politicians and businessmen running the show.

The silly statements by the head of the Council for a Better Louisiana that with the provost an academic, the chancellor of a flagship campus does not have to be, or the search committee chairman’s “ideally, the candidate should have academic credentials” shows how out of touch all this is with what a university is. Turn it around to argue that the CEO of a big business should “ideally have business experience” or an army commander should “ideally have military experience.” Is a political science professor acceptable instead, that too, as the only viable candidate for these jobs?

It is not that one is making an absolutist argument against a nonacademic heading a university. There have been successful examples. But these were people who showed appreciation and respect for academic standards, expertise and values.

There can be no such confidence here with a Board of Supervisors (not a single faculty representative on it) that simply pushes faculty expertise and opinion aside. In exactly similar fashion over faculty opposition, a then-vice president’s crony with inadequate credentials was brought in as a previous LSU chancellor, a choice that did not turn out that well, as even his supporters came to realize.

Our governor, despite his undergraduate degree in biology, does not seem to have understood one of the most basic elements of that subject or of how science works. And with his dictatorial style, his Cabinet officials, whether for public schools or economic development, do not display enough intellectual backbone of their own to accept the overwhelming scientific status of issues such as climate change or the theory of evolution.

Even for what these boards, councils and flagship coalitions are looking for, attracting external monies and the state’s economic development, the success of a university rests on the work of its faculty and students, not on administrators and supervisors.

Do these people think top universities and funding agencies such as NIH will be fooled when they see a chancellor who lacks an appropriate stature heading a university that aspires to be on the front line in biological research? Besides,There’s also the damage done to the morale of the current faculty. Surely good faculty and students, who usually have other options, will naturally select to go somewhere else.

A.R.P. Rau

professor

Baton Rouge