Our Views: Alexander faces big job

F. King Alexander will have much to do as the next president of LSU.

Alexander, president of California State University in Long Beach since 2005, was selected by the LSU Board of Supervisors after being identified as the lone finalist for the post.

We joined with others in criticizing the secretive search process that led to Alexander’s selection. That process has not helped advance public confidence that Alexander was the best person for the job.

Alexander has other challenges besides the lack of transparency in the search that brought him to LSU. He comes to LSU at a time when higher education in Louisiana is facing extreme budge pressures. Those pressures have frustrated the cause of making LSU a top research institution.

Alexander faced similar problems as a higher education leader in California. He might find his degree in political science helpful in navigating higher education policy in Louisiana. Unlike most other states, Louisiana gives the Legislature a lot of authority in setting tuition at public colleges and universities. That practice brings a greater degree of politics into higher education management here.

Under a new management structure, Alexander is expected to serve as president of the LSU system, as well as chancellor of LSU’s Baton Rouge campus. Advocates of this restructuring say that the reorganization will make LSU more efficient.

Institutional efficiency is a worthy goal, but no one is suggesting that any economies realized by LSU’s reorganization will really make up for the many millions in state funding that LSU has lost in recent years. That lost funding will limit Alexander’s ability to dramatically improve LSU’s stature among its national peer institutions.

Decreases in state funding underscore the urgency of increasing LSU’s endowment — the pot of private funds, contributed by corporations and individuals, that the university can use to advance its mission. The size of LSU’s endowment has also lagged seriously behind its peer institutions in neighboring states. As LSU’s top administrator, Alexander will probably have a big role to play in fundraising for the university.

No university leader, however talented, can succeed alone. Helping LSU fulfill its promise must involve not only Alexander, but everyone else in Louisiana, too.