With big leadership and possibly structural changes on the horizon at LSU, the leader of the state’s higher education management panel let it be known last week that he doesn’t want his board to be left in the dark.
Additionally, the leader of LSU’s Faculty Senate described some of the changes being pushed at the highest levels of state government as Soviet Union-style politics.
Two of the major issues under discussion at LSU are whether to consolidate the system president with the Baton Rouge chancellor position and whether the law school, agricultural center and Pennington Biomedical Research Center should be merged into the flagship campus.
Consultants from the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, of Washington, D.C., floated both ideas in a report to the LSU Board of Supervisors in mid-August.
A month later, Gov. Bobby Jindal came out in favor of unifying the president and chancellor positions, leaving serious doubt among some at LSU that the board, the majority of whom were chosen by the governor, would buck his wishes.
Jindal said consolidation would save millions of dollars by eliminating duplication in central offices and, more importantly, would help the various schools and colleges within LSU work better together.
Blake Chatelain, chairman of the LSU System Presidential Search Committee, did not return two calls seeking comment last week, while LSU Board of Supervisors Chairman Hank Danos didn’t return three calls for comment.
One person willing to talk about the issue, however, was interim LSU system President and Chancellor William Jenkins, who told the Louisiana Board of Regents he believes the university’s board is moving toward consolidating the positions.
“But that is only my opinion,” Jenkins said after the meeting. “I think what the governor said reflects a growing consensus.”
AGB is expected to present its final recommendations this fall outlining which leadership structure will most benefit LSU going forward: a separate system president and Baton Rouge campus chancellor or the combined positions model with an administrator to run some of the day-to-day operations on the campus. And if those positions are combined, should an executive or an academic fill it?
LSU Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope said Friday he doesn’t believe the LSU Board has decided to combine the two jobs.
“I believe the governor is making a public statement for a reason,” Cope said. “It’s because he doesn’t think it’s a done deal.”
Cope said LSU faculty members are concerned that consolidated leadership encouraged by Jindal would push academic decision-making “further away from the faculty and more toward the state Capitol.”
“The governor, with his conservative ideals, is always talking about how the people at the grass roots should be the ones making decisions, but here he is pushing a process of centralization worthy of the Kremlin,” Cope said.
On the other issue facing LSU — folding Pennington, the law school and the agricultural center into the Baton Rouge campus — Louisiana Board of Regents Chairman Bob Levy, of Ruston, asked that the panel be kept in the loop.
While a merger of institutions is ultimately under the control of the LSU Board, the Louisiana Constitution requires the regents to study merger-related issues and recommend the best path forward.
“We don’t want to have inadequate time to do our constitutionally required research,” Levy said. “And Dr. Jenkins made it clear he plans to engage us in the process.”
Levy declined to say whether he thinks such a significant merger would ultimately benefit LSU but said “the regents are interested in all efforts to bring about increased effectiveness and enhancements” in higher education.
Before leaving for Colorado State University in August, former LSU Chancellor Michael Martin endorsed bringing all Baton Rouge campuses under one umbrella.
LSU would make a significant leap in college rankings with a consolidated campus, Martin said.
It would allow the unified campus to collectively reap the benefits of the medical innovations spearheaded at Pennington and the grants won by the LSU AgCenter researchers, he said.
Earlier this month, LSU fell six spots to 134th out of roughly 200 schools in U.S. News & World Report’s prominent Best Colleges 2013 list.
Martin said that, barring consolidation, LSU will never truly enter “the big leagues,” the 61-member institutions making up the Association of American Universities that are recognized for academic excellence.
Count LSU Agricultural Center Chancellor Bill Richardson as one person with some consolidation reservations.
The center has 64 offices — one for every parish in the state — and operates 17 different research stations.
Richardson said it would be problematic if a request from an office in a far-off parish to have a position filled was delayed by bureaucracy in Baton Rouge.
“Someone in Baton Rouge may not see the urgency of filling a 4-H position in Evangeline Parish,” Richardson said. “We are still waiting to see what AGB will recommend, but our situation is unique, and we feel strongly about being autonomous.”
LSU Law Center Chancellor Jack Weiss said he has an open mind and will “play whatever role necessary to see that LSU reaches new heights” but also expressed concerns about autonomy by saying that it remains unclear whether a consolidation would help the law school “compete and succeed in a very competitive universe.”
Weiss also said he has yet to see any proposal outlining how a merger would affect faculty hiring, the law school’s ability to attract top students and admissions policy.
“Right now, I’m not really sure a merger would enhance” the law center, Weiss said.