The University of Louisiana System has a new president in Sandra K. Woodley, an administrator in the University of Texas system.
The UL Board of Supervisors picked Woodley without opposition Friday after 45 minutes of public questioning and another hour of closed-door discussions.
“This is an incredible opportunity,” Woodley told the board right after her selection. “I won’t let you down.”
The details of her contract have not yet been finalized.
As head of the UL System, Woodley will be responsible for 92,000 students enrolled in nine schools including the University of New Orleans, Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, McNeese State University in Lake Charles and Louisiana Tech University in Ruston.
She was one of three candidates recommended by the Washington, D.C.-based R.H. Perry and Associates firm, and the only candidate invited for an in-person interview with the UL board.
During the public portion of her interview, Woodley, 49, repeatedly came back to the theme of institutions adapting to the needs of their students, or “having a heart.”
She explained that she “made a lot of wrong decisions” as a young woman finding herself married at age 18, and with two children when she was in her 20s. Woodley added that she owes part of her current position to financial aid and the “heart” of instructors who helped her earn her undergraduate degree over the course of 10 years.
“Nobody in my family went to college,” Woodley said. “I didn’t expect to go to college, but because of teacher caring, I was able to get to the next level.”
As a candidate singled out for her financial prowess, Woodley on Friday, addressed state budget cuts. State public colleges and universities have been cut by more than $425 million over the past four years as Gov. Bobby Jindal and lawmakers worked to balance state budgets.
Past and current presidents of Louisiana’s four public college systems have been unanimous in their expectations that the state isn’t finished cutting money from higher education.
Woodley said colleges need to accept the reality of declining state funding and work to funnel existing revenue toward the highest priorities.
“I’ve always been interested in how money matters ... how you get the most out of what you have,” Woodley said. “It’s not a science set in stone.”
She added that colleges need to get out of the habit of being “afraid of the data.”
Institutions need to make a concerted effort to compare themselves to universities with similar programs and research goals to get an accurate view of how they measure up, she said.
“When you do that, you start to see patterns,” Woodley said. “You look for pockets of excellence nationally. You see how institutions are able to achieve excellence with similar or even lower funds. Great universities aren’t afraid.”
Woodley said she is on board with the current trend of universities offering growing numbers of online courses to increase revenue, but she added that the emphasis has to be on ensuring the quality of programs rather than the number of students who enroll.
She also said tuition has to be addressed in a way that doesn’t price students out of the public university system.
Woodley said it’s important that each institution has a long-term vision and a plan that puts them on the right track to meet their far-off objectives.
Woodley is expected to leave her job as vice chancellor for strategic initiatives at the University of Texas to be at her new position in Baton Rouge by Jan. 1.
Woodley earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in business administration from Auburn University in Montgomery, Ala., before earning a doctorate in business administration management from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Before joining the UT System, Woodley worked as a strategic planner and chief financial officer for the Arizona Board of Regents; vice president of finance, planning and performance for the Kentucky council on postsecondary education; and as the associate executive director of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.
Woodley succeeds Randy Moffett, who retired Sept. 15 after a 41-year career in higher education, including four years at the top of Louisiana’s largest college and university system.