LSU president discusses system consolidation

LSU’s proposed top-down reorganization will likely be completed in 18 months, LSU system President and Baton Rouge Chancellor Williams Jenkins said Thursday.

The main gist of the reorganization — consolidating campuses and naming a chief executive officer at the top in a position of oversight — should put LSU on the path to becoming “the omnipotent research university in the Southern region,” Jenkins said during an evening town hall meeting on the Baton Rouge campus.

Jenkins said the main components of the reorganization should be in place within the next six months and should move the university forward academically as well as possibly resulting in several million dollars in cost-savings.

One faculty leader argued that Jenkins and the LSU Board of Supervisors have embraced the idea of consolidation without first working through the details.

Jenkins was holding the fourth of 10 town hall meetings planned across the state to answer questions and quell fears that have arisen since Oct. 26, when the Association of Governing Boards, a consulting group out of Washington, D.C., proposed that LSU ditch its current model of separate and autonomous campuses in favor of a consolidated “flagship system.”

The current LSU system is made up of the main LSU campus in Baton Rouge; the LSU Law Center and LSU Agricultural Center, which sit adjacent to the main campus; LSU Health Sciences Centers in New Orleans and Shreveport; 10 public hospitals and more than a dozen clinics across the state; and academic campuses in Alexandria, Eunice and Shreveport.

The different units act, more or less, on their own under the current LSU structure.

The AGB proposal spells out a massive realignment of administrative positions who would all report to a single CEO at the top. The plan has drawn praise from the chancellors of LSU’s agricultural center and Eunice campus. It has drawn criticism from faculty and LSU’s law school chancellor who have expressed concerns about losing autonomy at the campus level.

Jenkins on Thursday stressed that the AGB report is just a framework the LSU board will use to create a newly organized “one LSU.”

In taking questions from faculty, students and staff, Jenkins said he thinks LSU should hire someone with a background in academics as its new president and should work to realize a common-course numbering system across the campuses to make transferring between schools seamless.

Jenkins also said he supports LSU working toward common academic admissions standards across the campuses in the long-term.

“All our campuses are powerful in their own right. If we could just embroider that power into a single fabric, it would make us a more powerful institution overall,” Jenkins said.

In a nod to the crowd, Jenkins assured the hundreds in attendance that they are “clearly the powerful campus in this constellation.” The other campuses will most likely have to conform to fit in with the Baton Rouge campus rather than the other way around, he said.

When the issue of layoffs came up during the meeting, Jenkins put the pressure on the state calling possible staff reductions “a function of funding.” But he assured the crowd that a loss in staffing would more likely hit the smaller campuses harder than the flagship in Baton Rouge.

Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope, who is a frequent critic of the LSU board, blasted board members who were absent from the meeting. Cope accused them of putting “the cart in front of the horse.”

“They’ve come up with plans but without the data or the evidence to support them,” he said.

Cope called the town hall meeting a welcome gesture of goodwill but criticized Jenkins for a lack of details in his answers and for continually coming back to the theme of “one LSU.”

“The strength of a university is in its variety,” Cope said. “To assimilate everything ... harkens back to the bad ol’ days. We need to get away from slogans and back to discussions that are more substantial.”