A change in leadership, especially at a state university, isn’t revolutionary. While the face of the institution will change, the same people who worked under the last administration will, for the most part, work in the same positions under a new figurehead.
Ultimately, that pinnacle of leadership is beholden to shareholders, bureaucrats and other important people students and faculty will never know. Almost every word that comes out of a president’s mouth will be policed by several layers of editors and boardrooms to put out the most sterile "Love Purple, Live Gold" statement there is.
Cynicism aside, newly-appointed President William Tate makes me hopeful for this university.
Case in point—I was marooned at the Olinde Career Center for a Friday afternoon meeting when I heard trickles of music from the presidential investiture upstairs. Much to my surprise, I felt school pride welling up within me, the first such feeling after a year of cold, COVID-era classes on a barren campus.
It could very well be that I’m only latching onto Tate as the university's savior because I’m starved for signs of competence and humanity in university leadership. Nevertheless, I believe there may be good reason for my optimism.
First—and likely most controversial—is Tate’s response to the approval of the Pfizer vaccine. COVID-19 has ravaged Baton Rouge, particularly its unvaccinated citizens. Yet, while other Southern universities have avoided outright vaccine mandates, the direct but measured response under Tate’s leadership has been stellar.
In his video “Message from LSU President Tate,” the titular speaker claims that once a COVID vaccine is approved, “we plan to mandate the vaccine at that time.” Sure enough, the day after the FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine a mandate for vaccination was put into place for all faculty, students and staff.
Students can still opt out of vaccination, but these exemptions are required by Louisiana law. The university's plan to routinely test unvaccinated individuals demonstrates not only a dedication to protecting campus but to making sure desired policies are enacted quickly and deliberately.
A much less controversial effort under Tate’s leadership was his response to Hurricane Ida.
Obviously, something had to be done on the university’s part. That "something" was a week-long closure of the campus, opening of financial aid to those in need and a personal message from Tate to “...not rush back to campus.” This response was a lenient one, and I'm thankful that the administration made it so.
Last year, my hometown of Lake Charles was decimated by Hurricane Laura. While I was fortunate enough to not require an extensive break to repair my home, I was only given two days to recuperate from the storm. I'm happy that Tate's administration recognizes the destructive power of these storms, tending towards caution instead of rushing back to school.
Overall, I don't think it's partisan to claim that the Hurricane Ida response was a good move on the administration’s part.
But maybe the most moving gesture is Tate’s very own podcast, “On Par with the President." Across two 20-minute episodes, the president chats with students and staff about their time at the university, what they’re currently pursuing and more. So far, the podcast seems primarily concerned with patting the university's back, although it also rightfully lauds the guest's achievements.
Even though the podcast doesn’t seem like much, it could be a gateway to a new era of communication between the university, its faculty and its students. Imagine if this was standard practice when COVID first broke out, or when the atrocities of the Title IX scandals went public—without PR experts and shareholders writing the president's script, there is potential for genuine conversation.
These changes may be all flash-in-the-pan pleasantries. It could be that routine COVID testing is irregularly enforced, that hurricane financial aid doesn't reach the right students or that the president’s podcast turns out to be a marketing gimmick for the admissions office.
It may be possible that all the good things I’m seeing are just lines being fed to Tate by the slimebags behind last year’s myriad scandals. This may be all a dream, and I’ll wake up tomorrow in my first-year dorm with the world aflame around me.
But something about Tate makes me want to believe, and I think I speak for all of us when I ask this of him: make us proud.
Haden DeVilbiss is a 19-year-old history and psychology sophomore from Lake Charles.