LSU presidential finalist defends record

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- LSU Presidential finalist F. King Alexander, left, talks with fourth-year mechanical engineering senior Alex Grashoff of Mandeville Thursday following his talk with faculty and students at LSU in Baton Rouge.
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- LSU Presidential finalist F. King Alexander, left, talks with fourth-year mechanical engineering senior Alex Grashoff of Mandeville Thursday following his talk with faculty and students at LSU in Baton Rouge.

LSU president nominee cites successes as qualification

LSU presidential finalist King Alexander said Thursday he is qualified to run a system as large and varied as LSU and that he will fight to maintain state support to higher education if he gets the job.

In making his first round of public interviews since being named LSU’s sole finalist on Monday, Alexander also said he wouldn’t have agreed to be a candidate if the process weren’t confidential.

Alexander arrived on the Baton Rouge campus just two days after LSU’s Faculty Senate unanimously passed a symbolic vote of “no confidence” in LSU’s Board of Supervisors, in part over their selection of Alexander to be the next system president.

Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope questioned whether Alexander, the current president of California State University at Long Beach, has the credentials to run a major research institution.

Cope argued that CSU-Long Beach is a regional campus, considered to be on a lower level than LSU, which is made up of four academic campuses; a law school; agricultural center; a biomedical research center; two health science centers; and 10 public hospitals and related outpatient clinics around the state.

But King defended his credentials noting, that he was a part of the largest college system in the country and presided over a campus with 36,000 students. His school, which had twice the national average of low-income and first-generation students, consistently posted a graduation rate over 50 percent, exceeding the roughly 40 percent predicted graduation rate of schools with similar makeups, he said.

Alexander said he was invited to the White House in December 2011, in part, to talk about his school’s success.“We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished,” he said.

Alexander also addressed state funding to colleges and universities, which has fueled much of Louisiana’s higher education debate going back several years. Alexander said his university budget in California has dipped from 44 percent state funding to 23 percent in about two years and routinely includes a number of revenue sources that may or may not pan out.

He said California’s Legislature requires a two-thirds vote to pass a budget, making the process especially long and difficult.

CSU-Long Beach administrators have drafted as many as seven distinct budget scenarios in a given year in order to contend with the uncertainty, he added.

As president of LSU, Alexander said, his job would be to establish relationships with donors and convince the Legislature to stay committed to funding higher education.

“This is a national issue,” Alexander said. “The trend nationally is very disturbing. We have to talk to legislators and make sure states stay in this game.”

On the issue of faculty, Alexander said he has a long track record of working with faculty and would continue that should he be named LSU’s next president. He is scheduled to meet with faculty early Friday.

While faculty and news outlets, including The Advocate, have criticized LSU’s secretive search process, both Alexander and search committee members defended their tactics this week as necessary to preserve the integrity of the candidate pool.

Alexander said he wasn’t actively seeking the LSU job. He said he was contacted by R. William Funk and Associates on LSU’s behalf.

Search committee chairman Blake Chatelain said Alexander was the first candidate interviewed, initially by phone in January, and then later in person with about five search committee members present at a Dallas airport in late January or early February.

Chatelain said various members of the search committee were sold on Alexander following his visit to Baton Rouge last weekend.

“He just stood out throughout the entire process,” Chatelain said. “We looked at his background, he articulated a vision and he helped us clearly understand how the next five years in the higher education industry are going to shape the next 50.”

LSU board Chairman Hank Danos added that he was impressed by Alexander’s “passion.”

“I’m pretty deliberate in my thought process,” Danos said. “I didn’t rush into this. He was clearly the right guy for LSU.”