St. Charles Herald-Guide

Time came for LSU president to go

Special to the Herald-Guide - May 4, 2012

By John Maginnis

Fired LSU President John Lombardi will be missed, though itís not clear by whom.

Not by his bosses on the Board of Supervisors, who chose not to wait until his contract expires in January to dump him on a 12-4 vote on Friday.

Not by Gov. Bobby Jindal, who no doubt grew weary of Lombardiís second-guessing of the administrationís budget policies and proposals for restructuring higher education, plus his inability to just stay quiet when told.

Legislators had enough of him from his first visit to the State Capitol when he spoke down to them like they were errant frat boys.

Chancellors within the LSU system and other college presidents and board members were fed up with his brusque style and imperial attitude (though many quietly appreciated his saying things they dare not).

Big-time alumni contributors-the kind of guys who buy out football coachesí contracts-wanted to get rid of him for not showing them due deference and for his diverting funds from the main campus to other system institutions.

Lombardi lost the students early when he said they could afford to pay higher tuition, given the number of Lexuses and Mercedes he saw on campus.

He may be missed by the Faculty Senate, whose president, protective of academic freedom, appreciated that Lombardi angered and agitated most of the above.

But he will be missed most by those who appreciated his intellect, his candor and his resistance to the dissolution of the LSU empire statewide, which had started with the breakaway of the University of New Orleans.

There is another large group, whether they liked Lombardi or not, who condemned the firing as one more heavy-handed power play by Jindal to remove anyone who disagrees with him. The governor did not admit responsibility for the dismissal, but he said the board, half comprised of his appointees, made the right decision.

Whether Jindal instructed the board or just gave it the green light, there was no longer any point in waiting for the inevitable and keeping the loose cannon on board for seven more months. As brilliant as Lombardi is and as thoughtful and well-reasoned his arguments, they were not shared by the governor, the board majority, legislators, other higher education officials and many major alumni. The only consensus the president seemed able to build was that it was time for him to go.

That irritant removed, all that the stakeholders need to do now is to come up with a strategic plan for LSU that is better than Lombardiís, which wonít be any easier than it was to deal with him.

The Legislature has before it two significant higher education proposals, both of which Lombardi has called stupid. One bill would strengthen the Board of Regentsí authority to allocate funds among the campuses, which Lombardi warned would effectively make Regents the super board and the other governing authorities irrelevant. Another proposal would merge LSU Shreveport into Louisiana Tech, which the former president labeled a "Trojan horse" plan to grab real estate and the LSU med school and hospital there.

Lombardiís opposition aside, there are complications to work out that could cause the Legislature, preoccupied with retirement bills and budget deficits, to put off both proposals until next year.

In the interim--and perhaps the real reason for the timing of Lombardiís ouster--is the plan by the Flagship Agenda, a group of major LSU contributors, to separate the main campus from the clutches of the system office, and to consolidate the positions of chancellor and president. That can be done by vote of the Board of Supervisors, without legislative action or, now, commentary from Lombardi.

It is time for LSU to get its own organizational chart in order and to repair relationships with the Legislature and other college systems, now that there is no one to blame for obstruction. If they want to attract the combination of talent and cooperation hoped for in a new president, the powers that be at LSU, on and off the board, need to set a clear direction that they would have a new leader follow, for John Lombardi was not that kind of guy.