One might expect that when he arrives in Baton Rouge he’ll tell folks to just call him King. Hopefully not in the regal sense of that appellation. Otherwise, it’s entirely possible given the overall state of education and what many believe is a bubble about to burst due to technology and rising costs that F. King will shortly become F’King.
Jokes aside, though, it was a goal of LSU’s Board of Supervisors and its search committee to find someone who was a strong, articulate leader capable of delivering high results on short budgets. And with Alexander, who would be leaving a post as President of Cal State University’s Long Beach campus, it appears they’ve found a leader who fits that bill.
The presidential search committee reviewed 35 candidates, committee chairman Blake Chatelain says. The committee was looking for someone with a “proven track record” of collaboration, who “understands how important it is to understand the culture of our organization,” Chatelain says.
“He is committed to upholding our great traditions and equally committed to continuing our transition to excellence for the present and the future,” says board Chairman Hank Danos in a news release. Officials say Alexander increased CSULB’s research and external funding capacity and support, helped to almost double the university’s endowment, and dealt with $85 million in reductions to state spending.
LSU’s major challenge, at least for the foreseeable future, will be to stay competitive or even improve its competitiveness on the national and world scale despite a relatively stagnant funding base. In a moribund national economy where state revenues are struggling to keep up with costs and given a political situation in which it’s neither possible to consolidate an overbuilt public higher education system nor raise taxes to pay for the current sprawl, the next successful leader of the system is going to have to know how to squeeze every ounce of excellence out of what money does come in.
And education funding at the college level – and particularly the public policy implications of it – are among Alexander’s major strengths. He’s reported to be an expert in that field and has given presentations on the state of American higher ed and the dollars behind it.
If you have an hour to delve into the topic, here’s a presentation Alexander gave at Long Beach State last year on the mess higher ed funding has become…
Not everything Alexander says in this presentation is particularly encouraging; his endorsement of the Obama administration’s takeover of the student loan industry on the basis that there was somehow waste in the private banks writing student loansand that the federal government would somehow do better is cold-sweat-inducing, for example. And the disdain he apparently has for private colleges, particularly the newer ones, seems to go beyond just the understandable concerns that federal student aid money is being snatched up to inflate tuition at lousy schools.
There appears little question this man is a garden-variety left-leaning academic (a master’s in Comparative Education Policy at Oxford and a PhD in Higher Education Administration at Wisconsin-Madison pretty much cinches that even if his words on film don’t), and though there is no particular record of his being a heavy-duty political activist he does appear as a donor to Democrat Rep. Ben Chandler, a Kentucky Blue Dog who lost re-election in 2010. Alexander’s connection to Chandler might come from the fact he used to be the president at Murray State, which was not actually in Chandler’s district.
But it’s clear he knows his stuff, and Alexander was regarded as one of the bright lights in higher education in California. He was twice voted “President of the Year” by the California State University Student Association, which would indicate he’s a star of sorts in that system. The results he generated at CSU-Long Beach indicate those two awards didn’t just come from some popularity contest. From LSU’s release on the committee recommending Alexander today…
Under his leadership, CSU Long Beach improved graduation rates to their highest levels in school history; enhanced the number of graduates to their highest levels, totaling approximately 9,000 degrees per year; and obtained capital funding and constructed a new $110 million Hall of Science, a $70 million Student Recreation and Wellness Center and a new School of Nursing facility during an economic recession.
Alexander significantly increased CSU Long Beach’s research and external funding capacity and support. He oversaw a reorganization of CSU Long Beach’s institutional advancement and public relations office, and the university’s private philanthropic giving has set institutional records and currently is in the midst of a first “Capital Campaign,” where more than $200 million has already been raised, resulting in a doubling of the university’s endowment.
During this same time, he maintained and modified budgeting processes to accommodate an $85 million reduction in state appropriation during the economic recession.
What comes into very clear relief from watching Alexander’s presentation in the video above, though, is that LSU is getting someone who’s very happy to relocate to Baton Rouge, and not because he’s being run out of his current job. From the press release…
“This is an exciting period at a difficult time for higher education,” Alexander said. “LSU is positioned better than many public universities in the United States to lead the Land Grant mission into the next 50 years. LSU has developed a great reputation due to the work of its faculty and staff and the quality of its students, and I would be honored to be part of that cohesive team as it moves into the future.”
The job he’s getting is a plum one, to be sure, as Alexander is taking over a multi-campus system which operates as the flagship of an admittedly imperfect higher ed establishment in Louisiana. But it also sounds like Alexander has absolutely had it with California and was ready to jump ship. From the transcript of the video above…
[California] has become one of the world’s biggest dysfunctional democracies and I think we need complete reform in what’s going on. There’s only three states that do a two‑thirds vote; Arkansas, Rhode Island. And Rhode Island is as big as Anaheim, so I wouldn’t count it.
This state does not work. I will say this. A part time legislature is needed. They’re up there year round not passing budgets, not passing them on time. We had to kill 28 bills last year just to keep our ability to react to what they were going to do to us because they’re thinking up ways. A part time legislature worked pretty well in Kentucky when they had to get back to work because they had to get back to work after three months. They passed the budget and they made sure we had a budget that we knew would start July one that we had to get ready for. Five of the six years I’ve been in California, we have not had a budget prior to the fiscal year that we started it.
Structurally, California is broken and needs significant reforms at the governmental level. And tying it together, I think tax reforms would be the next step. Where do we go with that? But I think structurally we’ve got some major issues and major problems that we all know.
It remains to be seen whether Alexander is the same kind of big-time hire that Mark Emmert, from whose leadership from 2000-2004 so much of the university’s recent progress springs, was for the school. It’s hard to imagine that someone with Alexander’s record of achievement wouldn’t tend to reverse the trend of poor leadership at LSU – which has been a far larger problem for the university than budget cuts have been, despite the protestations of the faculty; budget cuts at public colleges have been endemic everywhere and yet LSU is losing a lot more prominent faculty than other high-profile universities – but an attractive resume doesn’t guarantee a successful hire.
What does appear clear, though, is that Alexander is coming in with credentials which fit the stated goal the committee worked to achieve.
And that’s encouraging. Because since Emmert’s departure there has been a disconcerting lack of strategic direction at LSU, and personnel and policy have reflected that drift to the university’s detriment. While the committee’s choice to conduct a private search has been a matter of some controversy, the presentation of Alexander as its choice looks like a validation of the theory that to find someone excellent in such a high-profile position as the combination of system president and university chancellor at LSU you’ve got to go out and find that someone rather than post the job publicly and see who applies.
After all, that’s essentially how the current athletic director was hired.