Sometimes you just have to peel back the layers to see what really lies beneath the surface of political decisions.
And nothing in the state of Louisiana is more political than the method in which F. King Alexander was chosen as the next president of Louisiana’s flagship university.
To put it as succinctly as possible, the entire charade was a crock.
And that, unfortunately, is the sorry state of affairs that higher education in general and LSU in particular finds itself in today.
Gov. Bobby Jindal, the LSU Board of Supervisors and attorney Jimmy Faircloth simply have no shame. That group of power brokers—power abusers, really—feels so secure, so insulated, so detached from the voters, students and alumni of LSU that they have arbitrarily decided that court decisions be damned, they can do as they please.
Apparently it’s not enough that higher education has seen its budget slashed by 80 percent during this governor’s reign of terror.
Jindal, the Board and Faircloth are so cocky that they obviously believe that not even a court order handed down by a Baton Rouge district judge can dislodge the names of the candidates for the LSU presidency for which one F. King Alexander was eventually chosen.
And to be sure, the credentials of Alexander, questionable at best, have to leave one wondering: is this the best a well-paid Dallas search firm could do? No, really, is F. King Alexander really the most qualified person in all of America this firm could find to lead Louisiana State University? If so, one must also question the credentials of the search firm, R. William Funk and Associates which was paid $120,000 plus expenses to come up with a man whose highest academic achievement was that of assistant professor.
Perhaps Funk and Associates is better suited to recruiting managers for Popeye’s Fried Chicken.
But then again, perhaps not. Maybe Funk and Associates scoured the country in search of someone willing and ready to walk into this political graveyard called LSU. After all, who in his right mind would want to come to this state where higher education has been decimated, disparaged and dismantled by a governor who over his five-plus years in office, has not displayed the faintest hint of fiscal responsibility or moral conscience and who is accountable only to campaign contributors and aspirations—delusions, if you will—of higher office?
It might be appropriate at this juncture to itemize the list of transgressions, omissions, power abuses, acts of corruption, contracts, appointments, campaign contributions, lies and blunders by Jindal and associates but frankly, it would take too much space. Perhaps another time.
For now, let us concentrate on LSU.
Let us ask ourselves why the LSU Board of Supervisors—and Jindal; after all, the board members would wet their collective pants where they sit before they’d go to the bathroom without the governor’s permission—are so hell-bent on keeping the list of candidates a deep dark secret.
The argument presented by the board through Faircloth—who, by the way, is 0-for-however many times he has been to court on the administration’s behalf (we long ago lost track as the losses mounted)—is that Funk initially identified 100 potential candidates before winnowing the field down to 35. The curriculum vitae and other data were placed on a secure website for members of the search committee to review.
From that number came a final group of “six or seven” who were “worthy of more intensive interviews.” In the end, King was the only candidate recommended to the full board by the search committee.
How convenient. How absurd.
Compare that to 1977 or so when I happened to be serving as managing editor of the Ruston Daily Leader. Long-time Grambling State University President R.W.E. Jones announced his retirement and the Board of Trustees for Colleges and Universities began taking applications for Jones’s successor. Every step of the way, Bill Junkin, the equivalent to today’s commissioner of higher education, and Trustees Financial Committee Chairman Gordon Flores kept the media abreast of each and every applicant (qualified applicants, by the way) all the way up to the selection of a new president.
There was the announcement in 2009 of all five candidates to be interviewed for the presidency of Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond. They were identified by name, their current positions, and their qualifications for the position—something woefully missing from the LSU selection process.
Or take the more recent case involving the selection of a successor to Louisiana Tech University President Dan Reneau. The names and a brief biography of each candidate who had requested to be included in the selection process was published in all the area newspapers. When the selection committee had narrowed the candidate list to two, those individuals appeared in an open public forum. They addressed the public and availed themselves to questions from not only the Tech faculty, but the public at large.
This should have been the method employed in the selection of the new president of the state’s largest university, public or private. The difference, of course, was that the LSU president was chosen by Jindal’s hand-picked Board of Supervisors, the crème de la crème of political campaign contributors while the Tech president was chosen by the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors.
The LSU Board, however, used the oh-so-very-lame excuse that to release the names of applicants could inflict career damage to those who were not selected. Hogwash. What tripe. The very purpose of establishing a career track in higher education or any other field is to advance one’s career and you can’t advance your career without attempting to move up. And you can’t move up without making applications.
It wasn’t exactly a secret that Nick Saban, then at Michigan State, wanted to come to LSU and openly applied for the position. Nor was unknown that he was ready to move on to the Miami Dolphins a few years later. Last year, just about everyone knew Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes would be moving on as had his predecessor Derek Dooley.
But to settle on a candidate who had advanced up the career ladder to only the level of assistant professor before succeeding his (ahem) father to the presidency of Murray State as if he were some kind of prince suddenly elevated to the throne? And then to the presidency of California State at Long Beach by virtue of his political connections to the then-chancellor of the University of California System? To that, we can only say, hmmm.
We will be taking a closer look at Alexander’s qualifications in the coming days.
Could the secrecy around the selection of King possibly have anything to do with the fact that a close relative of U.S. Sen. David Vitter had expressed an interest in the position—and possibly submitted an application? It’s well-established that there is no love lost between Jindal and the state’s junior senator, particularly from Jindal’s end of the relationship. (Remember how Jindal threw money at favored legislative and BESE candidates but steadfastly refused to endorse Vitter for re-election because he felt it “inappropriate” to interject himself into a state campaign?)
Or could it be that King was the choice all along and Jindal wanted desperately to conceal the inconvenient truth that there were, in fact, other more qualified candidates but who were unacceptable to this ego-driven governor?
One thing is for certain: Jindal, for whatever reason, desperately does not want the public—voters, students, LSU alumni or legislators—to know. And don’t think for a nano-second that the decision to resist releasing the names was that of the board. That’s laughable.
And stacking the board with supporters who contributed more than $175,000 to his various political campaigns can ensure the cooperation of board members long on loyalty but extremely short on honor, openness, transparency and accountability—the very selling points of one Bobby Jindal, who long ago eclipsed the late Dudley LeBlanc of patent medicine Hadacol fame as the foremost practitioner in Louisiana’s grand history of snake oil salesmen.