Louisiana leaders Jay Dardenne, Jim Henderson among 8 finalists for LSU presidential search

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LSU Clock Tower (Photo by Julie O'Donoghue / Louisiana Illuminator)

Louisiana Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne — a former gubernatorial candidate who has served as lieutenant governor and state senator and is an unabashed supporter of his alma mater LSU — is one of eight finalists for LSU president, the LSU Board of Supervisors’ Presidential Search Committee announced Wednesday.  The other Louisiana finalist is Jim Henderson, who has been at the helm of the University of Louisiana System since 2017 and has been overseeing the system’s recovery after massive storms caused significant damage to multiple campuses in the system.  Henderson is also a former deputy under secretary of defense for the U.S. Department of Defense.

In total, the presidential search committee will conduct interviews with eight candidates. 

Interviews will take place on Monday and Tuesday of next week, with four candidates interviewed each day. The interviews will be available to the public over Zoom.

In addition to Henderson and Dardenne, the candidates are:

Rustin Moore: Professor and Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Ohio State University since 2015. Moore taught at LSU’s veterinary school from 1994-2006.

Laurence Alexander: Professor and Chancellor at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff since 2013. Alexander also served in various roles over a 22-year teaching career at the University of Florida, including Chair of the Department of Journalism, Associate Dean of the 12,000-student Graduate School and Director of the Office of Graduate Minority Programs.

Mary Ann Rankin: Professor and Former Senior Vice President and Provost at the University of Maryland, College Park from 2012 to Jan. 29, 2021. She previously served as Chairman of Biological Sciences and Dean of the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin.

Kelvin Droegemeier: Former Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Droegemeier has also been a Professor of Meteorology at the University of Oklahoma since 1991 and the Vice President for Research since 2018.

Gen. Ron Clark: Chief of Staff, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, U.S. Army. Clark also served as Operations Officer and Executive Officer in the 1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment at Fort Polk, Louisiana.

Lt. Gen. (ret.) Jeff Talley – President & CEO of the Public Private Partnership Initiatives (P3i) Group as an advisory services firm . Talley was also appointed the four-year term of Chief of Army Reserve in 2012.

LSU has been searching for a new president since F. King Alexander stepped down at the end of 2019. Tom Galligan, who is serving as interim LSU president, withdrew his name from consideration for the permanent position Tuesday.  He said will continue to serve as interim president until the university completes its presidential selection process.

The new president will arrive on a campus that has been embroiled in scandal in recent months.  USA TODAY reported in the fall that some LSU athletes had been allowed to get away with sexual assault and other violent crimes against women. 

On March 5 a 150-page investigative report by the Husch Blackwell law firm found that LSU hadn’t and hasn’t spent enough money or made enough of an effort to combat sexual misconduct and violence on its campus in Baton Rouge, despite being warned several times over the years that more resources were needed.

The Husch Blackwell report highlights at least 21 times when LSU officials purposefully hid information about sexual misconduct — or created a system which made it difficult for the university to adequately track it. This happened in multiple cases over several years and involved officials from the president’s office to the athletics department. 

Alexander, who was LSU president from 2013 to 2019, along with former LSU football Coach Les Miles and University of Kansas Athletic Director Jeff Long lost their positions since the Husch Blackwell law firm submitted its report to the LSU Board of Supervisors. Miles was coaching football at the University of Kansas. After he was let go, the university fired Long for having hired him. To the consternation of student activists and some women lawmakers in the Louisiana Legislature, LSU hasn’t fired anyone.

Executive Deputy Athletics Director Verge Ausberry for four weeks and Senior Associate Athletics Director Miriam Segar for three weeks for sitting on allegations that student athletes had been violent with women.

Ausberry did nothing when football player Drake Davis sent him a text that he’d hit his girlfriend, and Segar didn’t promptly report sexual assault allegations made against former star running back Derrius Guice. Galligan suspended Ausberry for four weeks and Segar for three.

LSU is also facing a Title IX lawsuit from Athletics administrator Sharon Lewis, who said she was harassed after complaining about racist and sexist behavior, particularly behavior coming from former LSU football Coach Les Miles.

When asked by a reporter about the lack of gender diversity — as just one of the eight candidates is female — James Williams, the Presidential Search Committee chair, said the committee recruited hard to get a diverse pool of candidates and said they have a strong pool of candidates.

State leaders last month talked about the need of gender diversity in leadership positions in universities as “a problem throughout the state.” Only two of the 16 members of LSU’s Board of Supervisors are women

“The plan is on April 30 we reconvene and make a decision about which candidates to advance to the Board of Supervisors,” Williams said to the committee.

The position is “advertised as open until filled,” Williams said.