What To Make Of Richard Lipsey’s Demands For A Housecleaning At LSU?

We’re going to liberally excerpt from the blog post written Wednesday by former Louisiana Board of Regents Chairman Richard Lipsey, as it has generated a great deal of discussion on LSU message boards, sports talk shows, social media and elsewhere – particularly in the wake of developments later in the week at LSU. Before we do, though, it’s worth bringing our readers who aren’t familiar with Lipsey up to speed on who he is.

Essentially, Lipsey is one of the heaviest hitters Baton Rouge has to offer. A supremely successful businessman in a number of fields, he’s been a major donor to LSU on both the athletic and academic side over several decades, and he’s known as a big-time political player who helped build the Louisiana GOP to what it currently is. That said, Lipsey’s principal stakehorse in Louisiana politics of recent vintage was Jay Dardenne, and when the latter opted to join John Bel Edwards’ team Lipsey rode with Dardenne and remains on Edwards’ side. He cycled off the Board of Regents in December.

Which is to say that Richard Lipsey is highly influential, both politically with the governor and with respect to matters LSU. But what’s less clear is that Richard Lipsey is particularly a shot-caller. And while he created an item of robust discussion at his blog on Wednesday, it’s quite possible Lipsey showed himself not to be a determiner of anyone’s fate by writing it.

Shot-callers don’t make public pronouncements about items of importance like who is the president or athletic director at LSU. Shot-callers make phone calls and decisions are consequently made. People who make public statements on issues like these are folks trying to influence the shot-callers. And we get the strong impression that’s what Lipsey is in demanding that F. King Alexander and Joe Alleva be run off.

There’s another theory we heard, which is that Lipsey was acting as a cat’s-paw for Edwards in calling for Alexander and Alleva’s heads. According to this theory, Lipsey broaches the subject and gets popular support behind a housecleaning, and then Edwards makes it happen after noting that he’s only doing what the people want done. We’re not persuaded by that one – Lipsey’s blog post went up Wednesday, one day after Edwards had publicly endorsed the decision by Alexander (more so than Alleva, though the athletic director had to front the decision publicly) to suspend basketball coach Will Wade before any real proof Wade had committed any NCAA violations had surfaced.

If Lipsey was trailblazing for Edwards, he wouldn’t have been doing a whole lot of favors for the governor by demanding the ouster of people Edwards had just backed.

Rather, we think this is something more along the lines of Richard Lipsey is 79 years old and doesn’t care what anybody thinks, and he’s going to have his say and use what influence he’s built up to call for actions he believes are right. And in this respect, he’s mostly on target.

Right from the start the blog post doesn’t mince any words…

It’s unfortunate that the focus on leadership performance at LSU often only occurs regarding athletics. We must get beyond the current controversy in athletics to see the real problem at LSU.  We need new leadership at the top. Both King Alexander and Joe Alleva were hired during the Jindal Administration. The new leadership at the Board of Supervisors has inherited this problem. They now must act quickly to remove Alexander and Alleva. This should be followed by the appointment of a strong interim LSU President and interim LSU Athletic Director not interested in a permanent position and the hiring of proven Flagship quality leaders through a national search.

It’s interesting that Lipsey formulates the call for bouncing Alexander and Alleva the way he does. Namely, pinning the blame for Alexander and Alleva on Bobby Jindal can be seen as currying favor with John Bel Edwards, as Edwards is ceaseless in blaming Jindal for all of the state’s woes (though we’ll freely stipulate that the hires of Alleva and Alexander both happened on Jindal’s watch and both hires were abysmally poor). There are some who have taken umbrage at Lipsey’s statement, because after all Edwards has been governor for three years hand has had ample time to dump both men. He hasn’t gotten rid of Alexander for a very simple reason Lipsey doesn’t mention – Alexander has been a willing shill for Edwards’ tax increases at the state legislature and an obnoxious one, so much so that several times we’ve had Democrat legislators ask us in wonderment why Alexander is so determined to sell them on his own seeming incapability to keep LSU’s doors open without massive funding increases.

Edwards wanted to sell massive tax and budget increases, and Alexander was a willing and useful tool in doing so – which is why Alexander was given a raise and an extension in October; that made him Edwards’ man far more than Jindal’s at this point. But for that agenda and his willingness to serve it, there would have been little reason to keep around a man whose record of administration at LSU has so clearly been deficient. So from an objective standpoint, there is a lot of blood on Edwards’ hands where the performance of LSU is concerned; Lipsey has to know this, so if his diatribe wasn’t intended at persuading the governor without insulting him one would imagine some chiding would have been forthcoming.

After a discussion of how there were lots of people who saw Alexander and Alleva as terrible hires when they were brought to LSU years ago, Lipsey then says keeping Will Wade on as basketball coach would be viewed nationally as “insanity” (that’s perhaps a bit strong; if Wade were to be reinstated for the NCAA Tournament it would be controversial and LSU would need a good counter-narrative to the one blasted out there by media types like Dick Vitale and Clay Travis, and over the longer term whether keeping Wade is a real possibility would have to depend on what proof Wade broke NCAA rules there actually is, as we’ve discussed). But, he says, replacing Wade with Alleva doing the hiring is even less possible. Lipsey points out that Alleva would then be making the fourth hire of a basketball coach in 11 years, which simply can’t be seen as acceptable. He suggests bringing Skip Bertman, who spent eight years as LSU’s athletic director before Alleva’s arrival, back as an interim AD.

Whether Bertman would be interested in that idea isn’t known. He’s retired, and comfortably so, and when Bertman left his full-time job at LSU he expressed much relief that he wouldn’t be making the hire for a basketball coach to replace the fired John Brady. That fell to Alleva upon his arrival; the hire was Trent Johnson, who was an abject disaster.

Here’s a pretty good summary of Lipsey’s take on Alleva and Alexander…

Sports are important for income, donations, and overall enthusiasm, but the overall status of LSU as a Flagship is much more important. Joe Alleva’s actions at Duke were predictive of the current issues in LSU athletics. His boss King Alexander’s lack of qualifications and lack of performance through his stay at Cal State Long Beach were predictive of damage he would do to our Flagship at LSU. As we move from one scandal headline to another, we have now passed the point where the Board of Supervisors must remove King Alexander and began the search for a qualified Flagship leader.

And then he gets into the litany of perceived mistakes made by LSU’s leadership, which is where Lipsey’s post is strongest…

The latest example of Alexander’s lack of leadership was the bizarre Alexander and Alleva joint official press release stating that holding out basketball player Javonte Smart “does not suggest, in any way wrongdoing”. Then what does it suggest?  Why was it done? Clearly these folks are not ready to handle public relations for a high school, much less a internationally known Flagship. Sadly, there has just been so much more, and it’s time to end it now. In sports alone we have seen the disastrous leaked courting of Jimbo Fisher followed by the joint Alexander/Alleva bizarre 3rd quarter “unfiring” of Les Miles, the embarrassing Tom Herman football offer debacle, unnecessary and costly extensions and raises to several underperforming coaches and so much more. The incompetence has lead to dissatisfaction from major sports and academic donors that has severely affected fundraising. Only a few years ago LSU chancellor O’ Keefe raised 786 million on behalf of LSU. The current leadership has reduced that to a relative trickle.

As students pay ever increasing tuition and fees to pay for 85 million in recreational expansion and a “lazy river”, the Baton Rouge Advocate recently revealed the following about the LSU Library: “When Gov. John Bel Edwards and a delegation of state lawmakers toured LSU’s Middleton Library earlier this year, they found a leaky basement, ragged furniture, bubbled and cracked wallpaper, rooms that flood so often from the rain that a vacuum is kept out to clean up the mess.”

Lipsey mentions LSU’s poor oversight over the Greek system at LSU, which is an item of importance seeing as though some 90 percent of the alumni donations to the university come courtesy of alumni who were in fraternities and sororities on campus – given that, preserving the Greek system can be seen as preserving the donor pipeline.

The death of Max Gruver has now been followed by arrests of nine DKE members whose abuses were not dealt with by the LSU personnel whose job was to find them.  They had to be exposed by national DKE officials not even on campus. The responsibility rests with King Alexander, whose own incompetence has been duplicated in many hires. Alexander placed  Mari Fuentes-Martin over Greek life when she came from a campus with no Greek system. It was pointed out numerous times during the search process that hiring someone who had no experience with a Greek system to run student affairs at a university with a large Greek system was a serious mistake. These are much more serious matters than sports. These matters involve systematic criminal abuse, physical, and mental damage. Alexander’s administrative hire Kurt Kepler left January 15 only to be replaced by Maria Fuentes-Martin who herself was suspended less than a month later with other top administrators.  Then the suspended administrators were “fully exonerated” by this regime within weeks. The administration is still claiming that the report “fully exonerating” these employees was all verbal so they can refuse to tell media and the public what happened. Anywhere else this would be unbelievable. It is completely unacceptable.

And then Lipsey returns to a subject which first brought his blog to our notice – the question of “holistic admissions” pushed by Alexander which Lipsey came out against in the strongest possible terms (our coverage of that donnybrook from last year can be found here). Quoth Lipsey…

The Board of Regents has also approved an audit regarding King Alexander’s unilateral and undisclosed changes to admissions practices at LSU that we exposed in August following media reports. These subjective standards he has unconstitutionally launched lack needed transparency and objective audit points. The recent major national news story involving bribery by some of the most powerful and wealthy at universities across America shows why objective standards are required. It is clearer than ever that that such subjective practices open the door for corruption and undue influence. Children of major donors or with political influence can now be admitted to LSU based on a subjective review of an essay and their “personal qualities” by LSU staff. This subjective review makes it impossible to question admissions decisions that may be completely inappropriate. It opens the door to corruption and undue influence.

The reference to the college admissions bribery cases is an appropriate one, though LSU doesn’t quite fit the profile of the selective universities implicated in those cases. It’s interesting that Lipsey makes the connection anyway, though, because when the “holistic admissions” debate was being had last year one of Alexander’s arguments for it was that LSU was just following what many of America’s most selective universities were doing. Now that we know those less-rigorous admissions standards were used to create loopholes for rich parents of slacker kids to bribe their way into Harvard, USC, Georgetown and other schools let’s just say Alexander’s argument didn’t age too well.

Otherwise Lipsey’s argument on “holistic admissions” is pretty similar to the one Conrad Appel posted here at The Hayride last fall – though Appel did call out the Board of Regents which Lipsey chairs for not showing enough teeth in fighting Alexander on the admissions issue.

Lipsey concludes by calling, again, for the new leadership at the Board of Supervisors to run off Alexander and Alleva and replace them with “nationally-recognized” interim hires. He says there are lots of those around, though that’s an arguable proposition – our guess is if Alleva were to disappear soon the likely result would be that assistant AD Verge Ausberry would get the job on an interim basis and wouldn’t want it without a shot at keeping it over the long haul, and unless former LSU chancellor and system president Bill Jenkins was interested in yet another stint at holding the fort there really isn’t a good immediate option with which to replace Alexander; after surveying the wreckage that higher education in America increasingly appears to be we’re not certain the best leader for LSU wouldn’t be someone coming from outside academia altogether, though how that right leader could be found amid the political soup that is Louisiana politics and the LSU Board of Supervisors at present we have no idea.

Still, it is interesting to see one of Edwards’ key political supporters and an undoubted player in Louisiana higher education and in the LSU community is squawking so loudly about the need for improved leadership at the Ole War Skule. What happens as a result, though, is a complete unknown.

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