Ex-President Jenkins to fill in
“LSU is a great university system and it deserves a great leader. The Board of Supervisors made the right decision.” Gov. bobby jindal
The head of LSU, John Lombardi, was fired by the Board of Supervisors on a 12-4 vote Friday with some board members claiming that Gov. Bobby Jindal was behind the move.
Former LSU President William Jenkins was named the interim president in charge of the system that manages all the LSU universities and hospitals. He is expected to take over next week.
Lombardi, who makes about $600,000 annually in pay and other benefits, was placed on leave until his contract ends Jan 1. Under the terms of his appointment, Lombardi will continue to receive his base salary of $450,000 but not the additional pay supplement or housing and vehicle allowances he had received as president.
Friday’s vote ends his nearly five-year run at the top of the LSU system.
Lombardi did not respond to phone messages and emails Thursday night and Friday. He also did not appear at the meeting where his supporters accused his detractors of working behind the scenes to round up enough votes to fire him.
Board member Tony Falterman said board Chairman Hank Danos called Thursday night to say Lombardi would be fired.
“How did you know you had the votes,” Falterman asked. “If you polled (other board members), you’re in violation of open meeting laws. I’m not accusing you of it, but I’d like to know how you had the votes.”
Falterman later accused his colleagues of folding to political pressure.
“We look like the Legislature right now,” Falterman said. “It’s not about worrying ‘Hey, if I don’t do this, I won’t get reappointed.’ ”
Jindal did not respond Friday when asked by email if he wanted to comment on the claims made by supporters of Lombardi.
Chairman Danos didn’t directly respond to Falterman. But board member Stephen Perry denied that any conspiracy or behind-the-scenes maneuvering led to Lombardi’s ouster.
Perry said it was Lombardi’s “dysfunctionality in communication” that sealed his fate.
“He doesn’t have credibility with the administration and with rank and file legislators. This is not something that popped up overnight, but from the individual consciences of individual members” said Perry, one of the newer appointees to the 15-member board, which includes one student.
Perry complimented Lombardi’s intellect, calling him “one of the most intelligent people that has ever been on campus.”
“Sometimes great people are not the right fit at the right moment in time,” said Perry, who was chief of staff for former Gov. Mike Foster and now is CEO of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau, Inc.
Alvin Kimble, a Blanco appointee whose term on the board expires in June, said Lombardi is being made a scapegoat for problems that should be blamed on the “alarming” budget cuts LSU has faced in recent years.
Kimble also took a jab at his fellow board members suggesting the governor orchestrated the move.
“You guys are doing what you’ve been instructed to do. It’s time to fess up,” he said.
But Roderick K. West, who is CEO of Entergy New Orleans and whose term also ends in June, denied that outside pressures influenced his vote.
In 12 years, “No one told me how to vote or how to think,” West said. “Heaven help them if they had tried.”
West, who voted to fire Lombardi, said he supported the president but saw how Lombardi’s personality “ruffled” people. “I knew in January things were not looking good for John,” he said.
West was chairman of the LSU Board when Lombardi was hired in July 2007 and led the ovation in his honor after the board made the vote.
Lombardi’s firing appeared to be a done deal several hours before the 1 p.m. Board of Supervisors meeting began, according to Kimble and other board members.
LSU Student Government President Cody Wells, on Friday morning, said that he supported Lombardi’s firing.
“Obviously I have no authority over John Lombardi’s employment over the system, or else he’d have already been fired,” Wells said.
Lombardi has supported shifting money away from the LSU Baton Rouge campus, Wells said.
Wells zeroed in on a comment he said the system president made years ago.
“John Lombardi said he’s driven around campus and seen all the Mercedeses and Lexuses and the other fancy cars and he believes because of that LSU can afford to pay higher tuition rates.” Wells said. “Just because our student body are high-achievers and are academically superior to the student bodies of other institutions, John Lombardi believes we should pay more.”
Also on Friday morning, Kimble confirmed that the Board of Supervisors’ leadership approached Lombardi on Thursday and asked him to step down. “They told him they had the votes to fire him if he didn’t resign,” Kimble said.
The Louisiana Flagship Coalition of statewide business leaders that formed last year to support LSU, told Lombardi four months ago they wanted him gone, Kimble continued.
“The Flagship Coalition wanted to be more in control of what’s going on. They told John he needed to go,” Kimble said.
Sean Reilly, the coalition’s chairman and the chief executive officer of Lamar Advertising Company, an outdoor advertising company specializing in billboards, however, denied Kimble’s claims Friday morning.
At the start of the meeting, shortly after the opening prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, Lombardi’s tenure at LSU was being referred to in the past tense.
For instance, Kevin Cope, president of the LSU Faculty Senate, called the board’s expected action a coup d’etat. He said a president needs to be someone who gets angry. “We (faculty senate) like anger even if it agitates some people who have billboards around town,” Cope told the board, adding that LSU faculty should have input on the selection of the university system’s next leader.
During the meeting, but before the vote, State Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge and chairwoman of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, posted on her Facebook page: “I am very disappointed on what is occurring at LSU. This is just another example of the Governor wielding his fire power because of folks not being in agreement with his agendas. Taking bold steps to stand for what one believes in is not acceptable to this administration. Too bad!”
After the meeting, Bobby Yarborough, the board member who offered the motion to fire the president, reiterated there was no prior consensus to get rid of Lombardi.
Lombardi was let go, Yarborough said, because he lacks the qualities to work with others and build consensus.
Jindal, who did not agree to an interview, released a prepared statement after the vote: “LSU is a great university system and it deserves a great leader. The Board of Supervisors made the right decision.”
The board selected Danos, James Moore, Yarborough, Perry, John George and Anderson to serve as a search committee. Danos said the search could take between six and nine months.
Voting to fire Lombardi: Danos, of Larose; Moore, of Monroe; Yarborough, of Baton Rouge; Ryan Perkins, of Shreveport; Stanley Jacobs, of New Orleans; Perry, of New Orleans; West, of New Orleans; George, of Shreveport; Raymond Lasseigne, of Bossier; Blake Chatelain, of Alexandria; Ronald Anderson, of Baton Rouge; and Jack Lawton, of Lake Charles.
Voting against firing Lombardi: Jack Andonie, of Metairie; Kimble, of Baton Rouge; Falterman, of Napoleonville; and Laura Leach, of Lake Charles.