LSU approves Alexander as new president

The LSU Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to install F. King Alexander as LSU’s system president.

Alexander thanked the board for having confidence in him and said he was “pleased and humbled” for the opportunity to lead LSU.

The vote was mostly a formality after the board named Alexander its sole finalist for the position late last week. He is expected to leave his job as president of California State University at Long Beach for Baton Rouge in early July.

Board members said Alexander will get roughly the same $601,000 annual pay package his predecessor John Lombardi received.

He will take over a system in transition as the LSU board works to reorganize its autonomous network of academic campuses, law school, agricultural center, biomedical research center, hospitals and clinics under the Baton Rouge campus.

LSU, Alexander said, is “perfectly in position to become a national model for what higher education is going to look like in 10 years.”

He also talked about updating and redefining what it means to be a land grant university — the institutions created when federally controlled lands were handed over to the states 151 years ago. The states were responsible for building schools focused on agriculture, science and engineering as a response to the industrial revolution.

Alexander said he’s interested in shaping how land grant universities like LSU can evolve to serve the public over the next 50 years.

One benchmark that’s been discussed during the current reorganization is how best to position LSU to join the 62-member Association of American Universities. The prestigious and invitation-only organization is made up of the top public and private research universities in the U.S. and Canada.

But Alexander downplayed the importance of being invited into the AAU. “We certainly want to be a part of the AAU, but the benchmark is doing what’s best for society,” he said. “The challenge of higher education is to meet the growing needs of the public.”

By starting in July, Alexander will be only intermittently involved in the legislative session, which runs from April 8 through June 6.

During those two months, the Louisiana Board of Regents, the state’s higher education policy board, will be pushing a measure that would give institutions authority to charge more for high-demand, high-cost programs such as nursing and engineering.

In some cases, schools have to enroll 16 liberal arts students to offset the cost of enrolling one nurse.

Alexander said he would have to study the issue more before taking a stance on it. He noted that some states are discussing charging lower tuition for high-demand programs as an incentive for students.

“There’s not an easy solution,” Alexander said. “There are pros and cons either way and the discussions will continue going on.”

Alexander’s selection follows a secretive search process launched in the fall, in which LSU discussed candidates behind closed doors and refused to publicly acknowledge any of the people under consideration.

LSU search committee chairman Blake Chatelain maintained Wednesday that a confidential search is the best way to attract the best candidates. His opinion was shared by Alexander and interim LSU System President William Jenkins.

Chatelain said schools have to consider the number and quality of candidates who won’t apply if a search is open to the public versus the public’s right to know who is being considered to run a state institution.

“Either way you do it, there’s going to be unanswered questions,” Chatelain said.

LSU Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope, a frequent critic of the LSU board and the search process, said he hopes Alexander will prove to be open and accepting of the opinions of the different LSU constituencies.

“Ignoring advice is a stupid and ignorant thing to do,” he said.