Candidate questioned by LSU faculty

The only candidate for the job of leading the LSU System told faculty Friday that he supports tenure, which protects jobs but has been under fire at some universities.

F. King Alexander also said he did not know if tuition would increase at LSU under his watch. Alexander said tuition is a complex issue with a lot of variables.

The LSU Board of Supervisors earlier this week named Alexander, who is currently the president of California State University at Long Beach, as its candidate for president/chancellor to run the LSU Ssystem and the Baton Rouge flagship campus. The LSU system is made up of four academic campuses; a law school; agricultural center; a biomedical research center; two health science centers; and 10 public hospitals and related outpatient clinics around the state.

The LSU board has not begun speaking to him in earnest about a contract, Alexander said. He refused to say how much money he would seek.

Alexander came to Baton Rouge on Thursday and spoke to students. On Friday he spent an 1 hour and 40 minutes answering questions from the faculty.

Some LSU faculty challenged Alexander’s academic credentials.

Alexander said he ran a research program at the University of Illinois and was offered tenure there.

“You simply can’t be a great teacher without conducting research,” Alexander told about 80 members in the audience and 150 watchers online.

“My research drove my agenda and my itinerary in the classroom,” Alexander said, adding that he still conducts research and still publishes on higher education financing.

Alexander said tenure protects research.

Several state universities — Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, for instance — have challenged the need for tenure, a protection that makes it very hard to fire professors.

“The beauty of tenure is that it protects our faculty from external pressures. And when people say tenure needs to be eliminated, I can cite many examples of where intrusion from the outside tried to limit many of our faculty to conduct invaluable research,” Alexander said.

But some professors see tenure as an entitlement and that feeds those who want to eliminate the job protection.

Tammy Dugas said she came from Shreveport to ask questions on behalf of faculty and staff at the LSU Medical School there. She said employees were concerned about their futures as LSU moves to privatize the public hospital in Shreveport, which provides funding and training for medical students.

“The comment from one of my faculty was ‘Save us,’ ” Dugas said.

Alexander said he did not know enough specifics of the structure and financing to comment. “I am still out of the loop,” Alexander said.

Alexander lunched with chancellors from other LSU campuses and visited with Gov. Bobby Jindal on Thursday. He was expected to watch the baseball game between LSU and Auburn on Friday night.

During his time at CSU Long Beach, graduation rates improved to about 9,000 degrees awarded each year. He organized the funding — partially using federal stimulus dollars — to build a $110 million Hall of Science during the height of the recession.