Regents launch search for new higher education commissioner

The Louisiana Board of Regents expects to have a slate of finalists for the state’s higher education commissioner job by October.

The search for a new commissioner formally launched this month, after state lawmakers, in the final days of the 2014 legislative session, handed Regents the authority to set the job’s salary — a task previously left to a legislative committee.

Nominations for the job and letters of interest from potential candidates will be accepted through Aug. 8, with a first round of semifinalists to be named later that month. After that pool is narrowed, interviews with the final candidates will be held in early October.

“It is very important that the next commissioner understands the complexities of higher education in our state,” Regents Chairman Bubba Rasberry said in a statement on the search. “This individual must be a strong leader and a visionary with capabilities to effectively lead us into the future. With the help of AGB Search, I am confident that the committee will find the best and brightest candidates to recommend to our board.”

Rasberry and board member Albert D. Sam II will co-chair the commissioner search committee, and board members Mark T. Abraham, Charlotte A. Bollinger, Raymond J. Brandt, Joseph P. Farr, Chris D. Gorman and Robert W. Levy will serve on the committee.

Louisiana’s former higher education commissioner Jim Purcell quietly left the post in March, three years after taking the job that oversees Louisiana’s colleges and universities.

Rhode Island officials this week picked Purcell to lead that state’s college system, according to The Providence Journal.

Louisiana’s Board of Regents will be assisted by Washington, D.C.-based AGB Search, which will receive up to $75,000 for the search and related expenses.

AGB consultant Tom Layzell, who held higher education roles in Mississippi, Illinois and Kentucky, spoke during hearings at the State Capitol this session, urging legislators to change the state’s process for hiring its commissioner. The Legislature ultimately stripped the salary approval duties from the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget, but kept intact the Senate’s confirmation of the state higher education chief.

Lawmakers added the legislative approval steps in 2010, after former commissioner Sally Clausen resigned amid controversy. Clausen had secretly retired for a day but was rehired, netting a nearly $90,000 lump payment in vacation and sick leave time.

Rasberry has said he estimates that the new commissioner will be paid in the mid-$300,000 range. Purcell was paid $275,000. The commissioner doesn’t receive free housing, a car or other perks that university presidents and chancellors often receive.

Purcell didn’t seek a contract renewal for the job after he reportedly clashed with Gov. Bobby Jindal over repeated cuts to the state’s funding for higher education. His salary will be between $135,000 and $175,000 for the job in Rhode Island, according to local reports.

Purcell’s replacement will oversee Louisiana’s four-year and two-year colleges, which included 221,324 students in fall 2013 and had a $2.6 billion budget. The new commissioner will report to the 15 Regents appointed by the governor and one student board member.

In the job listing, Regents say they want “a highly qualified individual to build efficiently and effectively upon a sound academic tradition. The commissioner will be called upon to guide and support the systems’ higher education needs for traditional, nontraditional and online learners for a population across the state.”

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of the Louisiana Legislature, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.