Editor’s Note: This column by Sam Hanna Jr. was first published the week of Dec. 30, 2019. It remains relevant since the LSU Board of Supervisors has yet to name a permanent replacement for former LSU President F. King Alexander.
While LSU alumni and fans around the world are enjoying the most dominating and most exciting football team the Ole War Skule has ever fielded, there’s something else going on at LSU that anyone who has a passing interest in the university should play close attention to.
Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, was F. King Alexander’s last day on the job as LSU president. He had held the position since March 2013.
Rehashing the Alexander years would be a waste of effort and time, though it’s safe to say Alexander will not be remembered as one of LSU’s better presidents.
In the coming weeks, the LSU Board of Supervisors will begin a nationwide search for a new president, according to board chairman Mary Leach Werner.
In an interview with The Advocate in Baton Rouge, Werner correctly pointed out that LSU has administrative needs and academic needs. What she really meant was the president of LSU must wear two hats.
One, he must keep the faculty happy and marching in the same direction. That’s tricky in and of itself since so many faculty members believe their opinions are the only opinions that matter.
Two, an LSU president must be capable of raising big money for the university. Raising money for LSU plays out on two fronts.
One involves the governor and the Legislature. A governor must recognize that LSU is the face of Louisiana, and while that may not register with someone who didn’t graduate from LSU, it’s the truth. Not only must the governor realize Louisiana’s success is directly tied LSU’s success, a governor must be on board in leaning on state lawmakers to appropriate the money LSU needs to be successful.
The other fundraising hat an LSU president must wear concerns dealing with alumni, or that innate ability to coddle well-heeled alumni and convince them that in order for LSU to succeed, LSU’s alumni must step up to the plate — financially — in a big way.
Though it’s been written in this space before and while you may not wish to read it again, it is very important for us to recall a time in the not-too-distant past when LSU was on the move and widely considered one of the better publicly funded universities in the nation. It was during Gov. Mike Foster’s tenure from 1996-2004, particularly beginning in 1999 when Foster played a heavy hand in Mark Emmert’s hiring as chancellor of LSU.
Emmert was a dynamite chancellor who presided over one of the greatest periods of growth and success in the history of the university — academically and athletically. Remember, it was Emmert who stepped in and made the decision to hire Nick Saban to replace Gerry DiNardo as LSU’s football coach.
Emmert knew that for LSU to enjoy success in the classroom, the university needed a successful football program to fuel financial contributions to the university at large — both from the Legislature and from alumni.
Yet, Emmert had it easy in many ways. Foster believed in him and instructed his staff to give Emmert whatever he wanted and whenever he wanted it, including the governor’s staff browbeating the Legislature into appropriating the money Emmert said he needed for LSU.
All of that, my friends, made it far easier for Emmert to raise money from alumni and other friends of the university.
Of course, Saban turning the LSU football program into a national power — including a national championship in 2003 — played a huge role in all of it.
So, going forward it would behoove the LSU Board of Supervisors to recall the Emmert years when narrowing its search for a new president, assuming the board is serious about hiring someone who’s truly capable of doing the job.
Sam Hanna Jr. can be reached by phone at 318-805-8158 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.