John V. Lombardi became president of the LSU System in September 2007 shortly after being nudged out of his previous job for battling with his bosses.
Lombardi, who was fired Friday by the LSU Board of Supervisors for what one board member called a failure to build relationships with people who mattered, came to LSU with a pugnacious reputation and a willingness to speak bluntly.
Lombardi replaced William Jenkins, who now is coming out of retirement to serve as interim head of LSU’s $3.5 billion network of four university campuses, a law school, two medical schools, 10 hospitals and dozens of clinics across Louisiana.
Five years ago, the LSU board started courting Lombardi almost as soon as he announced he was leaving as chancellor of the University of Massachusetts’ flagship campus in Amherst. But Lombardi also had a reputation of raising college rankings and improving fundraising, while remaining popular with faculty, students and alumni, even when difficult decisions had to be made.
LSU officials at the time saw a future of belt-tightening and reorganization.
LSU Board of Supervisors approved Lombardi on July 13, 2007, as president after he was named the only finalist following a secretive search process.
“This is a tremendous moment for us,” Lombardi said at the time, including his wife, Cathryn, “to participate with you in this grand adventure.”
The Los Angeles native said in July 2007 that he expected to be at LSU for about five years before retiring. He turns 70 in August.
Lombardi’s outspoken style has led him to apologize at his previous postings. He said soon after taking the LSU job that he had been criticized for not being a team player, and was called an immature bully at University of Florida, where he worked before UMass.
“People have often said to me I am too clear and direct,” Lombardi said.
In Louisiana, Lombardi clashed with the Jindal administration over massive cuts to the budgets of universities, reorganizing higher education management and building a new public hospital in New Orleans. He oversaw the transfer of the University of New Orleans from the LSU system to the University of Louisiana System.
Lombardi also criticized TOPS, which pays the tuition and some fees for eligible college students. Gov. Bobby Jindal champions the politically popular program.
Lombardi said the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS, has become a “state entitlement gift” that supports many students “with no demonstrated financial need.” He said TOPS “inadequately supports” financially needy students.
For students from families making more than $100,000 a year, Lombardi said, “Maybe you need to get a TOPS certificate, but maybe you don’t need the money.”
Louisiana students already have incentive to go to LSU because in-state tuition costs are much cheaper than going to college in another state, he said. LSU’s tuition is about $2,000 less than its peers at just more than $5,000 annually.
Lombardi scoffed at efforts by the Jindal administration and its legislative allies to reorganize higher education rather than address what he said was the more pressing need of allowing university administrators freedom to raise revenues through increases in tuition and other fees.
In April 2010, for instance, Lombardi said, “To rearrange the deck chairs at this time is surely a waste of time when we ought to be focusing on the main event.” Having worked in different states with different college board and system arrangements, Lombardi added, “None of them are any good.”
Lombardi testified in favor of legislative plans to increase tuition.
Unlike most other states, Louisiana requires legislative approval of tuition increases. Historically, legislators were slow to raise tuition, leading LSU to be one of the least expensive major universities in the South.
The fees, surcharges and tuition for a Louisiana resident taking 15 hours as an LSU undergraduate in the Fall 2007 semester, shortly after Lombardi started, was $2,337.70, according to the LSU fee schedules. For a comparable schedule in the Fall 2011, a Louisiana resident paid $3,180 — roughly 36 percent more, according to the LSU fee schedules.
In October and November 2010, Lombardi attracted the ire of students, alumni and university officials when he pressed the LSU Board to shift revenues from the main Baton Rouge campus to research institutions that could not rely on revenues from student tuition to offset budget cuts in state funds.
Lombardi’s pay package with LSU totals $601,000 a year, and his contract runs through Jan. 1.
Under the terms of his appointment, Lombardi will continue to receive his base salary of $450,000 until January, but not the additional pay supplement or housing and vehicle allowances he had received as president.
Lombardi also is a history professor on the Baton Rouge campus.