A high-ranking LSU administrator recommended the university next week award an honorary doctorate to a booster whose company pays the official a six-figure salary.
Opponents to awarding an honorary doctorate in Humanities to Sean Reilly, chief executive officer of Lamar Advertising Co., say the award is a conflict of interest because LSU Provost Jack Hamilton is paid more than $100,000 to sit on the board of directors at Lamar.
Reilly said Friday he’s “delighted” to receive the honor and called the conflict allegation “interesting.”
Reilly is the co-chairman of the Louisiana Flagship Coalition, a group of business leaders that formed in 2011 to support LSU.
The process to award honorary degrees generally begins with a nomination from faculty. The nomination is scrutinized by a series of committees — picking up endorsements and recommendations along the way — and culminates with a vote by the LSU Board of Supervisors.
In Reilly’s case, one of the recommendations he picked up along the way came from LSU Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Hamilton. The provost is the university’s chief academic officer and second-in-charge on campus.
Hamilton, 64, has served on Lamar’s Board of Directors since 2000. He was paid $107,440 in 2011, according to the company’s filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
In a Dec. 19 letter to LSU Chancellor Michael Martin, Hamilton wrote: “Mr. Reilly is deserving of this prestigious degree based solely on his leadership and love of LSU. His other prominent accomplishments, however, bring significant honor to LSU as well.”
Hamilton said Friday that no conflict exists.
But LSU Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope described both Reilly receiving the award and the recommendation letter from Hamilton as “problematic” and a “conflict of interest.”
According to the LSU System office, the criteria for awarding honorary degrees should be based on a person’s contribution to their occupation or to society. A person’s substantial contributions to the development of the LSU System or the nation, should also be considered, the criteria says. The guidelines further say nominees should be of such outstanding character and distinction that their acceptance of such a degree would honor the LSU System.
According to the profile on the Lamar website, Reilly graduated Harvard Law School and was a state legislator from 1988 to 1996. He has served in leadership positions on a number of different boards including the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the state agency that coordinated the state’s hurricane recovery efforts, and the Louisiana Public Affairs Research Council, commonly known as PAR.
Cope said he sits on an eight-member committee made up of academics from the different university campuses.
At least two committee members voted against Reilly receiving the award, Cope said. Most nominees “are of such distinguished achievement” they are voted in unanimously, he said.
When the Board of Supervisors approved Reilly’s nomination without objection on March 16, they disregarded about 25 percent of the academic committee’s wishes, Cope said.
“This whole thing is fishy. It is the business of faculty to give degrees. It doesn’t look good for an academic institution to do academic things in a decidedly unacademic fashion,” Cope said.
LSU Board member Tony Falterman, said he was at the meeting when Reilly was approved but didn’t vote.
“I was sitting there and I couldn’t believe it,” Falterman said. “I’d like to know why Jack Hamilton thinks Sean Reilly deserves this. I don’t see what sets Sean apart, other than him being a wealthy businessman and being on the coalition. It’s a shame what’s happening to LSU.”
Hamilton said Friday while he is on Lamar’s board, Reilly is not, and therefore has no control over board members’ pay.
Hamilton also said he sits on one of the LSU committees that debated whether Reilly should get the doctorate, but did not vote and was “careful” to tell the other members to “vote their conscience.”
On the conflict of interest issue, Hamilton said, “What did I get? What did I give him? You don’t have the right to raise a question about a conflict. There would have to be a situation where I get something or gave something. I didn’t vote for him. I endorsed him, that’s as far as I went.”
Reilly said, “People can say things, but I don’t even know how the process works ... All I can say is I want to thank my good friends at LSU for honoring me with this degree. I’m delighted with it. I love LSU.”
And, like Hamilton, Reilly dismissed the idea that a conflict of interest exists because of their association with Lamar.
“I’m not on the (Lamar) board,” Reilly said. “I can’t affect his compensation.”