Lombardi Gets The Boot At LSU

Both WAFB and the Baton Rouge Advocate are reporting this morning that John Lombardi, the LSU system president, is getting the axe at the LSU Board of Supervisors meeting today.

The Advocate’s report quotes Alvin Kimble, a Democrat-connected telecom entrepreneur appointed by Gov. Kathleen Blanco to his current term on the board, as saying it’s all about politics.

Political pressure from the Jindal Administration is behind Lombardi’s ouster, Kimble said. “John is very single-minded; he does what he thinks is best for the university without having any concern for the politics… He hasn’t made friends with the administration.”

Kimble said he expects most of former Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s appointments to the board will not support Lombardi’s termination, while most or all of Jindal’s appointees will vote to remove him.

The Board of Supervisors of leadership approached Lombardi Thursday and asked him to step down, Kimble said. “They told him they had the votes to fire him if he didn’t resign.”

And WAFB’s report quotes Tony Falterman, another Blanco appointee, as saying the same thing.

Board member Tony Falterman of Napoleonville said he does not support the move but added there are enough votes on the board to fire Lombardi.

Falterman believes the Jindal administration might be behind the move because Lombardi recently testified before the state legislature and was critical of Jindal’s plan for higher education.

This isn’t a surprise. An influential group of business leaders and others among LSU’s alumni, the Flagship Coalition, to whom Jindal is developing something of an alliance, has been gunning for Lombardi for months. He’s not on board with much of the Coalition’s agenda and he’s been lukewarm at best to it since its rollout over a year ago – even calling its aims evidence of “extreme arrogance.”

There have been other issues. Earlier this year Lombardi sent out a highly public e-mail in the LSU community asking that no one complain about higher education funding this year, amid what look like steep budget cuts elsewhere with the state enduring a $900 million (actually more than $1 billion now) shortfall. While that seemed like a message supporting the governor, its delivery had anything but such an effect since it gave off a vibe not dissimilar to Vietnam-era POW’s making forced confessions on TV, and some criticized Lombardi’s methods as attempting to damage the governor.

Lombardi’s rambunctuous style and sometimes-sloppy management made for a bumpy ride, as for example when he fell into a controversy with LSU chancellor Michael Martin, whom he hired, over a dispute involving the funding formula for LSU’s main campus.

And Lombardi’s job is likely going away with him, considering that the Flagship Coalition is pushing a reorganization of LSU along the lines of the University of Florida, in which the university is less a far-flung system and more a single entity. The members of the Flagship Coalition come in large part from the fan club of Mark Emmert, the popular former chancellor who infused the state’s business community with a vision of LSU as a nationally-competitive public university focused on high academic standards and cutting-edge research more than a mass-education vehicle. Lombardi was on board with that vision to an extent, but he was never going to be the Emmert-type central figure such a model will need. Neither, as it happens, is Martin – who has been talking about retiring soon.

So this was inevitable. It just happened earlier than his contract called for, largely because it’s the end of April and if LSU is going to go out and hire a guy like Emmert to shepherd the restructuring of the university, they need to have a head start on doing it over the summer.

Don’t feel badly for Lombardi. From the Times-Picayune report about his ouster

The president’s current appointment extends through Jan. 1, 2013, an extension from his original appointment through Jan. 1, 2011. Lombardi is paid $550,000 per year, plus a housing and automobile allowance. His appointment letter calls for him to remain a faculty member at his base university salary of $450,000 if he is removed from his administrative appointment.

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