Ohio State leader advises LSU

Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee told members of LSU’s Transition Advisory Team on Tuesday night that they are on the right track in consolidating campuses, combining the president and Baton Rouge chancellor positions, and conducting a secret search to find a top executive.

Ohio State is one of several institutions LSU has identified as “universities of interest” as the advisory team works to reshape the university under the Baton Rouge campus.

Gee, who appeared at the advisory team meeting via videoconference, has held more university presidencies than any other U.S. citizen, with stops at Vanderbilt University, Brown University, the University of Colorado and West Virginia University over a 33-year career.

In 2009, Time magazine named him the best college president in the country.

One of Gee’s main points during a lengthy question-and-answer session with the LSU advisory committee was that universities like LSU need to become more nimble to survive in an era when state funding to colleges is declining nationwide.

Ohio State, he said, used to be a scattered cluster of 18 colleges with no central mission until a consolidation effort reorganized the school into six campuses.

Michael Boehm, Ohio State’s vice provost for academic and strategic planning, also participated in the videoconference. He explained that the “one university” model LSU is considering makes a college more attractive to students.

As part of Ohio State’s model, the school has one English department with one common curriculum spread out over its six campuses. The entire department is governed by a single department chairman, Boehm said.

That type of structure preserves the quality of the degree for both the students who want to live in a large city and attend the main campus, and the students who choose to enroll in a smaller, close-knit environment at one of the other campuses, Boehm said.

LSU is made up of autonomous institutions, with the main campus in Baton Rouge; the law school; the agricultural center; academic campuses in Alexandria, Eunice and Shreveport; LSU Health Science Centers in New Orleans and Shreveport; and 10 public hospitals.

Gee said a fractured governance structure holds a university back from being “of the greatest benefit to the state.”

He also suggested doing away with the attitude that favors tradition over innovation.

Ohio State, at one point, owned a number of parking lots and other property not central to its core mission, he said.

Privatizing those assets resulted in $1 billion in revenue the school later put toward scholarships and research.

Gee also took on the issue of government funding, calling on state governments to loosen their regulations on schools and “give us the freedom to be entrepreneurial,” as state dollars to colleges and universities have declined nationwide.

The issue of increased control is likely to come up in the legislative session starting April 8.

Louisiana’s college administrators have been pushing in recent months to be given more control over tuition.

Louisiana is the only state in the nation that requires two-thirds legislative approval on tuition and fee increases.

Gee counseled the advisory team to look for a president with experience running a university as vast and varied as LSU.

“You need to find someone who has flown in the left seat,” Gee said. “It’s not the type of job to learn on the go.”

Gee also said that LSU has the right idea by keeping the search process secret.

“Talented people will not be a part of the process, if there’s public exposure,” he said.