Did the LSU Board of Supervisors opt for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in its selection of F. King Alexander, 50, as the next LSU president?
Will the LSU faithful, so alarmed at the prospects of an appointment of Secretary of Economic Development Stephen Moret to the position, end up wishing he had gotten it after all?
Most important of all, with academics, integrity and healthcare already sacrificed at the Altar of Jindal, will the LSU football program survive?
Perhaps these and other questions will be answered in due course but for the time being, let’s take a look at the paradox that is F. King Alexander.
The first issues that must be addressed are his credentials and his motivation for coming to LSU.
The politically-charged atmosphere in Louisiana in general and LSU in particular is such that one must question the wisdom of anyone wanting to walk into such a volatile situation. The mere fact that one would even apply for the position would seem to call his or qualifications into question.
The LSU student newspaper, The Reveille, was contemplating filing a lawsuit—and still might do so—to learn who all the applicants were. But considering who the winner was the paper’s editors may wish to reconsider its efforts to learn who the losers were.
On the one hand, there is the F. King Alexander who two years ago admonished state governments for “backing out of their responsibility” to keep public colleges working and affordable.
On the other hand, there is the F. King Alexander who operates what critics describe as a “vanity” conference operation that capitalizes on the Oxford University name without the benefit of its being officially affiliated with the English school.
The Baton Rouge Advocate describes Alexander as “a nationally respected up and comer” and his 28-minute speech in February of 2011at The 14th Annual Travers Conference on Ethics and Accountability in Government Financing California: Strategies for Fiscal Housekeeping was a direct assault on state governments’ failure to adequately fund state colleges, thus allowing private universities and for-profit colleges to syphon students away from public institutions.
His talk was a blistering attack on states that he said have taken federal funds for higher education while at the same time, cutting state appropriations by like amounts. Meanwhile, federal grants continue to increase for private schools.
It was the kind of rhetoric that college professors will embrace enthusiastically but the kind that got Alexander’s predecessor, John Lombardi canned by the Board of Supervisors—at the direction of Jindal who doesn’t like to be criticized by subordinates.
Then there is Alexander’s Oxford Round Table connection.
The Oxford Round Table is a series of interdisciplinary conferences that was founded by Alexander’s father, Kern Alexander but now run by F. King Alexander and his wife.
The purpose of the Oxford Round Table is “to promote education, art, science, religion and charity by means of academic conferences and publication of scholarly papers,” according to an online profile.
The organization has incorporated, dissolved and reincorporated several times in different states, including Kentucky, Illinois and Florida—both as a for-profit and as a non-profit. In 2008, the non-profit Oxford Round Table, Ltd. was established in the United Kingdom.
A 2009 report was critical of the organization because, the report said, it does not make its lack of academic connection to Oxford University clear.
Two years earlier, Times Higher Education reported that the organization had been criticized because it was trading on the name of Oxford University and failed to properly inform invitees that it had no formal academic links to the university.
The Oxford Round Table also has attracted controversy in at least three states, including Louisiana, over the cost of school boards’ paying for administrators to attend its conferences. This led to a successful legislative effort to tighten travel rules for school board members statewide, according to a 2003 New Orleans Times-Picayune story.
It remains to be seen if Alexander will bring his pro-funding rhetoric with him or whether his Oxford Round Table will set up shop in Baton Rouge—or both.
Either way, it should be interesting—like perhaps a reprise of the old Carol Burnett Show skit As the Stomach Turns.