LSU picks new president

Published 12:15 am Saturday, July 7, 2007

BATON ROUGE (AP) — After a national search, Louisiana State University head hunters have picked the embattled chief of the University of Massachusetts to take over the LSU System’s 11 institutions.

The LSU Board of Supervisors is expected to approve John Lombardi as the system’s new chief next week, on the recommendation from the search committee, said Laura Leach, chair of the search panel. Members of the search panel acknowledged Lombardi’s reputation — combativeness, and a lack of diplomacy — but voted to recommend him Friday after praising his pedigree as an administrator at UMass and at the University of Florida.

‘‘What we have here is a man who is one of the gurus of higher education,’’ said Charles Weems, a member of the search committee and the board of supervisors.

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UMass announced in May that Lombardi would step down as chancellor after the next school year, then return as a professor after a one-year sabbatical. School president Jack Wilson said he and Lombardi agreed on the arrangement, but some referred to Lombardi’s departure as a ‘‘palace coup.’’

Lombardi has been lauded as a strong fundraiser at UMass, and a skilled administrator and advocate who helped bolster the campus’ standing.

But some trustees said he resisted plans to streamline the five-campus system. Critics recalled that, while at Florida in the 1990s, he referred to a black administrator as an ‘‘Oreo’’ — a remark for which Lombardi publicly apologized.

Members of LSU’s search committee acknowledged Lombardi’s straight-talking style.

‘‘All of us make slips from time to time. None of us is perfect,’’ Weems said.

Lombardi ‘‘is too direct,’’ Weems said. ‘‘That may be something we need more of here at LSU.’’

Lombardi was not present at the meeting.

If approved by the full board, Lombardi would take over from current President William Jenkins, who announced last year that he would retire from the post when the board found a replacement.

The system president is responsible for 11 institutions, including LSU’s main campus in Baton Rouge, the University of New Orleans, medical schools in New Orleans and Shreveport and the statewide system of charity hospitals. The system has a $3 billion annual budget.

The 17-member search panel looked for Jenkins’ replacement for seven months before settling on Lombardi.

Lombardi was chief of the University of Florida from 1990-99, gaining popularity with alumni and students for raising the school’s academic standing.

He was also known for hot-tempered outbursts when he disapproved of policies and administrators. He drew heat in his final year at Gainesville for giving four top administrators pay increases ranging from $25,000 to $39,000 — without approval from the chancellor or regents.

Lombardi resigned and arrived in 2002 at UMass, when the Amherst campus was facing a $40 million cut in state funding. He cut programs, laid off workers and increased student fees. He has since filled about 90 positions as part of a long-term goal to hire 250 faculty members, while presiding over a campus building boom.

He also set out to reduce the school’s reliance on state funding. He created the UMass Amherst Foundation, exclusively devoted to private fundraising. Since he arrived, the campus has raised about $144 million in cash and pledges.

In their brief discussion of Lombardi on Friday, LSU’s search committee members focused not on fundraising, but on his skills as an administrator and his focus on excellence and diversity.

‘‘Based on everything that I’ve seen, the next president of the system will be one who is committed to diversity,’’ said Isaiah Warner, an LSU chemistry professor and vice chair of the search committee.


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