LSU finalist considered an up and comer

F. King Alexander
F. King Alexander

LSU’s finalist to be president, King Alexander, is regarded as a nationally respected up-and-comer who pushed for new taxes to support California universities and said in a recent speech that big businesses or millionaires are not real “job creators.”

He’s also met recently with President Barack Obama on the impact of rising higher education costs.

The president of California State University in Long Beach was named the sole finalist for LSU’s top position on Monday. Alexander is scheduled to arrive in Baton Rouge late Wednesday night to meet with faculty, students and staff on Thursday.

He could be named LSU’s next president as early as March 27 during a special board meeting.

Just before announcing Alexander as the university’s pick on Monday, LSU’s presidential search committee chairman Blake Chatelain said the selection process was free of any “political interference.”

Some of Alexander’s positions would appear to contradict those of Gov. Bobby Jindal and his supporters. For instance, Alexander spoke favorably about an effort last year to raise California taxes to help support higher education in that state. Jindal repeatedly has argued against tax increases of any kind.

In an August “State of the University” speech to his students in California, Alexander was clear that voting “yes” on a state tax proposal would “protect” the school’s budget.

CSU-Long Beach spokesman Rick Gloady said state funding to the school’s approximate $510 million annual budget has dipped $85 million since 2008. The tax referendum sought to mitigate some of those losses by raising sales taxes and increasing taxes on affluent Californians.

“From my perspective, the wealthy or millionaires of this country have been mislabeled by some as the ‘job creators,’ ”
Alexander said in an August 2012 speech to college students in Long Beach. “The real job creators are in our kindergartens, middle schools, high schools and all of you in this room. You are the real job creators.”

Alexander spoke of his own family history to bolster his point.

“With reference to the term ‘job creators,’ all I know is that it was not Mr. Peabody’s coal train or Mr. Buck Duke’s tobacco wagons that led my grandparents out of Noy Hollow, Kentucky. It was public education and an opportunity to attend a public university with a mission very much like ours,” Alexander said.

In Louisiana, Alexander would find himself in a similar situation to what is going on in California. Jindal and the Legislature have cut $625 million from Louisiana’s public colleges and universities since 2008, according to the state Board of Regents.

On Tuesday, as people around LSU clamored to learn more about Alexander, members of LSU’s Board of Supervisors repeated their belief that they made the right pick. Chatelain and board Chairman Hank Danos praised Alexander’s record of academic success and said he is the right person to lead a university in transition.

LSU is in the middle of a top down reorganization of its autonomous academic campuses, law school, agricultural center, hospitals and clinics spread out across the state.

LSU board members said they hope to have a more streamlined and efficient university organized under the main campus in Baton Rouge by 2015.

But while board members have predicted that Alexander will be well-received on campus, LSU Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope, a frequent board critic, accused them of rushing to a conclusion.

Monday’s selection of Alexander was somewhat of a surprise when search committee members emerged from a routine, closed-door session and announced they’d reached a consensus.

Cope said the rush to pick Alexander and the secretive nature of the search cheated the LSU community out of debating who among the shortlist of candidates would be best for LSU.

Cope said CSU-Long Beach, one of 23 campuses in the California State University system is considered a regional university and not a major research institution like LSU.

But University of Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley had a much different take. She worked with Alexander a few years ago in Kentucky when she was a part of a postsecondary education committee and when he was president of Murray State University.

Woodley said Alexander is highly regarded nationwide for improving his school’s graduation rates and spearheading initiatives boosting student success measures at a time of declining state budgets.

“He is awesome; a visionary and a leader who would be really helpful in Louisiana,” Woodley said.

“He is very committed to policy issues he feels are important, he’s a policy wonk and a data geek, which are some of the best things to be” in higher education.