William Tate selected to serve as LSU’s first Black president

Tate will arrive on a campus still reeling from sexual misconduct scandal

William Tate gives his first press conference as LSU president. (JC Canicosa/Louisiana Illuminator)

William Tate, a former professor and provost for academic affairs at the University of South Carolina, was named LSU’s next president by the Board of Supervisors Thursday. He will become the first Black person to run LSU in the 161 year history of the university. Not only that, but Tate will also become the first president or chancellor of any of the 14 schools from the Southeastern Athletic Conference 

“I am really overwhelmed, quite frankly,” Tate said in a press conference immediately following the Board’s decision. “It’s not something I expected even a year ago.”

Tate will replace LSU President Tom Galligan, who has served as interim LSU president since January 2020. The LSU Board named Galligan as an official LSU president — removing the “interim” from his title Thursday. LSU President F. King Alexander stepped down in 2019. 

“For me, this position is all about what we can do to help students,” Tate said. “I think there’s no better place in the United States to come find a dream and make it happen than right here at LSU.”

Tate has served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of South Carolina since July. Between 2002 and 2020, he served as dean of the graduate school and vice provost for graduate education at Washington University in St. Louis. 

At South Carolina, Tate was an “Education Foundation Distinguished Professor” and “responsible for the overall leadership of academic affairs of the university, including curriculum development, program assessment, establishment of academic standards and university accreditation,” according to a press release from LSU.

Acknowledging the history he will make as the first Black leader of an SEC campus, Tate said, 

“To me, it’s very special. And that also means that I have to absolutely be outstanding, because you’re going to hold me accountable, but I would like you to say in a number of years… not that the guy was just an African-American president, but he did a doggone good job.”

At Thursday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Collis Temple, the first Black person on LSU’s varsity basketball team, choked up as he moved for the board to select Tate “as the next LSU president. The board voted unanimously to select Tate.

After the board meeting, Temple told an Illuminator reporter that when he arrived on campus 50 years ago, “I never thought something like this would ever happen in my lifetime.” Temple said his father tried to attend LSU in the early 50’s, “so for this to happen.. it’s just something that’s phenomenal. More important than all of that, this guy’s immensely qualified to be a leader.”

Though it has been more recently overshadowed by a scandal involving sexual misconduct, over the last year, LSU has had to reckon with its racist past and whether it is sufficiently welcoming to today’s Black students. 

Of LSU’s 34,290 student population, about 5,000 students are Black, about 22,500 students are white and about 2,500 students are Hispanic.

In 2020, Black students successfully staged protests that resulted in the Board of Supervisors removing the name of segregationist chancellor Troy H. Middleton from the main campus library. After Middleton’s name came down, Exquisite Wlliams, one of the students who had started a petition to change the library’s name, said, “There is no name safe on any building. Especially if that name stood for racist ideologies and white supremacy. No, their name is not safe. And we will get to them. We got to go one step at a time here.”

In January, after continued pressure from Black students and faculty, LSU’s African and African American Studies Program was finally granted department status, 26 years after the program started. 

Tate said the progress LSU has made in racial justice should be “viewed as the starting point for achieving what the community desires and that is an inclusive environment where people feel wanted and respected and a part of the community.”

Sam Rhodes, the president of the LSU Black Caucus, said he believes Tate “will be more proactive than reactive” to situations as president. Rhodes said he’d been following the LSU search committee public interviews, and “I’m pretty excited that he got elected. He is definitely the most qualified for the position.”

A.P. Tureaud Jr., the first and, at that time, only black undergraduate student in 1953 was kicked off campus and forced out of the university 55 days after he arrived. 

“President Middleton, the Board of Supervisors, faculty and students were unrelenting in their response to my presence on campus,” Tureaud said to the Illuminator in June about his treatment while at LSU.

On Thursday, Tureaud said to the Illuminator he is “excited and proud that Dr. William Tate has been selected to lead LSU.” He said Tate “will continue (LSU’s) evolution as an educational institution that values excellence, diversity and opportunities for all irrespective of race, creed, national origin and color.”

“It’s been a long time coming and I’m happy to be here to celebrate this milestone for LSU,” he said.

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.

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 Miles.

Tate said he sees the university’s cultural and systemic changes in regards to Title IX as “an opportunity to design and build a trauma-focused approach” — an approach to Title IX reports where “the victim comes forward, we recognize that they have been traumatized in some form or fashion, and then we work with them in the context of their trauma to make sure that they’re taken care of.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards — who went to law school at LSU — congratulated Tate Thursday and said he shares with Tate the “goal of making higher education more accessible to students from all walks of life and all areas of our state and beyond and in growing the system’s prominence and I welcome his experience, vision and insight.”

“Dr. Tate will lead Louisiana State University during a challenging time in its history,” Edwards said in a press release.

Tate’s tenure as LSU president begins July 2.