LSU Foundation won’t reveal consulting contract details

Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- The LSU Parade Ground is at the center of the LSU Baton Rouge campus, shown here in 2010.
Advocate staff file photo by BILL FEIG -- The LSU Parade Ground is at the center of the LSU Baton Rouge campus, shown here in 2010.

Some of the key players involved in planning a dramatic, top-to-bottom reorganization of LSU’s structure are being paid with private funds and, therefore, aren’t subject to public records laws.

The LSU Board of Supervisors, since mid-summer, has partnered with three different consulting firms to help map out a campus consolidation plan and the selection of a new leader. The entire effort is being called LSU2015.

Two of those consultants working with the LSU board have payment plans in place with the private LSU Foundation. A third consulting firm is, so far, working for free with the expectation that a contract with the foundation will be finalized before too long.

The nonprofit and tax-exempt LSU Foundation was created in 1960 out of a collection of business and community leaders looking to support the university.

What was a $66,000 enterprise in 1963 now takes in about $30 million per year and has a $330 million endowment dedicated to various LSU causes.

Both foundation President Lee Griffin and Corporate Secretary William Sylvia Jr. are members of the university’s Transition Advisory Team.

The 10-person team working to guide the reorganization has held several public meetings since the beginning of the year.

But Sara Crow, the foundation’s communications director, said the organization intends to keep private some of the contractual details surrounding arrangements with consultants.

Crow, however, did say that the foundation is paying Dallas-based R. William Funk & Associates a $120,000 fixed fee along with some “documented out-of-pocket” expenses for the firm’s help in recruiting a new president to run a revamped LSU.

Releasing those details, Crow said, is “an atypical business practice” of a private foundation, “but in this case we understand why there is interest in this process.”

Crow, on Wednesday, declined to say how much money the LSU Foundation paid the Washington, D.C.-based Association of Governing Boards, whose October report kicked off the current reorganization planning.

The AGB report suggested that LSU would become more efficient by moving away from its model of separate autonomous campuses in favor of a consolidated system organized under the flagship campus in Baton Rouge.

The LSU System is made up of the main campus in Baton Rouge; the law school; agricultural center; academic campuses in Alexandria, Eunice and Shreveport; LSU Health Sciences Centers in New Orleans and Shreveport; 10 public hospitals; and related clinics across the state.

Crow would not disclose whether a single donor or a group dedicated money to pay one or both of the consulting firms.

“I can’t talk about specifics of the donors,” she said.

Christel Slaughter, of Baton Rouge-based SSA Consultants, has been the public face of LSU’s restructuring efforts in recent weeks.

She has organized and moderated the most recent Transition Advisory Team meetings.

On Wednesday, Slaughter said her company has been working without a contract.

“We are going to have a contract,” she said. “We’re going to be hired officially. I understand it’s going to be with the foundation.

Slaughter said her firm “donated time” to the LSU Foundation several months ago while the group was working on a strategic plan.

This time around, Slaughter said the LSU2015 effort “was too important” to wait for a contract.

“We wanted to get started. We love the university. We love this state,” she said.

Slaughter said she can’t presently estimate a possible fee her firm will charge until LSU or the LSU Foundation explicitly defines SSA’s role in the process.