Agency questions LSU merger plan

LSU governing board’s decision to merge two of the system’s top jobs has raised concerns from the Georgia organization that accredits Southern colleges, which is pressing for more details about the changes.

Leaders of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, called SACS, questioned whether LSU officials are in compliance with accreditation standards. They outlined concerns in emails and a letter to LSU officials, documents that were released to The Associated Press by the university system in response to a public records request.

At issue are the appointment of William Jenkins as both interim chancellor of LSU’s flagship campus and as interim president of the LSU System and the board’s plan to consolidate the two positions.

SACS officials said a merger needs approval from its Commission on Colleges before it can be done. They’ve also asked for more information about Jenkins’ role leading both the university system and the flagship school in Baton Rouge, to explain how he avoids conflicts of interest.

“The news reports point out that you are not only the CEO of LSU A&M College but also CEO of LSU System, which raises questions about compliance,” Barry Goldstein, vice president of SACS Commission on Colleges, wrote to Jenkins in an Oct. 29 letter.

The letter came after Goldstein emailed T. Gilmour Reeve, vice provost for academic affairs at LSU’s main campus, asking who was the university’s chancellor.Goldstein said SACS wasn’t notified that Chancellor Mike Martin left the Baton Rouge campus to lead the Colorado State University System and instead read it in news reports, along with the plans to merge the president and chancellor’s jobs.

A letter announcing Jenkins’ appointment as chancellor “should have gone out as soon as it occurred,” Goldstein wrote.

Goldstein also told Jenkins in an email that “a merger/consolidation is a substantive change and has to be approved by (the Commission on Colleges) prior to it being enacted.”

Accreditation is a benchmark used to judge the worth of a school. It can affect the value of a degree in a job market and a school’s ability to attract faculty and students. LSU is currently in the midst of an ongoing review to reaffirm its accreditation with SACS.

Jenkins and LSU leaders said they are providing more information to the accrediting organization and are in compliance with accreditation standards, which review governance, finance and integrity issues.

“I think we’re on the right track now and should get this attended to,” Jenkins said.

He said LSU is sending SACS information that will clearly define his different responsibilities and how he avoids conflicts of interest. Jenkins noted he has served in the dual role before and didn’t run into problems with the accrediting agency.

“We will be able to show no conflict in responsibilities,” he said. “I think I’ve managed that pretty well because I’m sensitive about that.”

The LSU Board of Supervisors decided in October to merge the system president and main campus chancellor’s jobs, a vote it will redo next week after the Attorney General’s Office said it had concerns the vote violated the state’s open meetings law.

Shelby McKenzie, lawyer for the LSU System, said the proposed resolution to be considered at the December board meeting will “cure the concerns” of SACS.

However, both McKenzie and Reeve said they didn’t necessarily agree with claims that the accrediting organization has to approve the Board of Supervisors’ plan to merge the jobs as long as LSU demonstrates its compliance with accreditation policies.

McKenzie said the reworked resolution will spell out that Jenkins is working in two positions and that the combination of the jobs wouldn’t take effect until a new president is hired. Also, the resolution will include language that LSU will comply with accreditation standards, McKenzie said.

“We will have in place all of the requirements that SACS has for such a change,” he said.