The Association of Governing Boards presented five options for structure of leadership within LSU to the Board of Supervisors last Wednesday in a meeting conducted on Zoom.
The presentation addressed whether LSU is ultimately a single university or a system of eight connected institutions. AGB consultant George Pernsteiner said the answer to this question will help shape the decision about structure.
"We were asked to look at whether or not the current structure works," Pernsteiner said. "The current structure combines the presidency of the University with the head of the campus in Baton Rouge, the A&M campus."
The study was based on over 100 interviews conducted by AGB of University faculty, students, donors and staff. AGB also reviewed the structures of many other flagship universities relevant to the search and study.
The University's current structure was first established after a 2013 AGB study. Board Chair Mary Werner said AGB was chosen again in 2020 because AGB is familar with LSU. AGB also worked with the University in 2006.
Due to COVID-19, the AGB report noted that though options and issues remain the same for LSU administrative structure, the timing of actions regarding the Board's presidential search may be affected. The report also included that COVID-19 is likely to affect state appropriations, student enrollment, tuition income and methods of operation.
In regard to whether the University's current combined structure is effective, AGB responded with three considerations: "Maybe," "Maybe Not," and "Other Considerations."
In their "Maybe" response, AGB said the current structure provides a greater sense of LSU identity statewide, as well as more shared services and streamlined processes and less conflict between the A&M campus and president's office. As a result, the report concludes that this structure improved student success.
"Undeniably, LSU has enjoyed significant student success in terms of enrollment, in terms of equity, in terms of graduation; all of the elements of student success have been improved over the last several years," Pernsteiner said.
Under the details of "Maybe Not," the report concluded that under the current structure, the A&M campus "does not have a visible leader dedicated to it." Other campuses believe that the president may favor the Baton Rouge campus, and some believe the president's job is too large for one person or may inherently involve conflicts.
The report also acknowledged that it may be too soon to determine if the current combined structure works because there has been only one incumbent to fill the role, former University President F. King Alexander.
AGB Consultant Richard Novak then outlined principles and best practices that the Board of Supervisors should consider before making their decision.
AGB suggested the board keep primary stakeholders, meaning Louisiana citizens, in mind; the board should promise there will be no reduction of the University's capacity to reach the state.
Novak suggested that a synergy among all the LSU campuses should be evident. People matter more than structure, and the board should unite behind the final decision and ensure clarity of responsibilities for president and chancellors, according to the report.
AGB also recommended best practices for the board, which included having clear expectations for the president, supporting all campuses and assessing performance annually.
AGB Consultant Cartwright said the recurring question is if LSU is a single university or a system of eight institutions and presented options to the board.
"Structure helps define and ensure that good leaders can get on with the business and expectations that you have set before them," Cartwright said.
As for the search for president, AGB recommends a national search that engages faculty, staff and students from all institutions within LSU and presented five options.
The first option, maintaining the current structure, would not entail any structural changes and would give the board more time to test the structure out. She said it also would provide the opportunity to sustain momentum in student success.
However, option one would not provide the resources that many view as necessary, such as research or additional staff, in the president's office. Cartwright said under this option, new expectations for the president would have to be achieved without new staff hired.
The second option presented is to maintain the current structure but add resources for leadership and collaboration.
"This, as you see, is essentially option one with the addition of investments for staffing and resources within the President's Office to invigorate collaboration, research and enhance other functions such as shared services and online education," Cartwright said.
While it would intensify focus on research and prevent the president from being spread too thin, this option costs more and would not solve the issue of other campuses feeling that the Baton Rouge campus has primacy.
The third option is to invigorate a provost position to provide a visible leader for the Baton Rouge campus. The provost would serve as the head of the A&M campus and would report to the LSU president similarly to the chancellors of other LSU campuses. The Baton Rouge campus would gain a visible leader, but this option would cost more than the previous two options.
The fourth option is to establish a chancellor position who would lead the A&M campus and report to the president.
"It would be important for the Board to define clearly the responsibilities of the president and the responsibilities of the chancellor and to carefully delineate the working relationship between them," Cartwright said.
This option also provides a clear leader for the A&M campus, but costs and the possibility of conflict may increase. This option also does not address research and could derail progress of the current model.
The fifth option is to establish a chancellor for the A&M campus while also adding resources to the president's office for leadership, research and other areas. This option has similar advantages and shortcomings of option four, but with increased focus on research and increased cost.
Regardless of structure, AGB concluded the board needs to provide a clear purpose of the University and define roles and responsibilities for leaders and collaborative research across all LSU entities
"Structure can get in the way of success if not defined correctly," Pernsteiner said.