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Savoie will lead UL: Higher education chief returns to alma mater; see photo gallery from Baton Roug

Savoie will lead UL: Higher education chief returns to alma mater; see photo gallery from Baton Roug

Savoie will lead UL: Higher education chief returns to alma mater; see photo gallery from Baton Rouge

University system makes choice a unanimous one

Joseph Savoie, commissioner of higher education, who began his career at UL will return to the university as its sixth president this summer.

The UL System Board of Supervisors unanimously voted for Savoie on Thursday during its special meeting after interviews with Savoie and the other two finalists: Steve Landry, UL vice president of academic affairs; and Clifford Stanley, president and CEO of the national nonprofit Scholarship America.

The board couldn’t pass up the "opportunity" to appoint Savoie, whose credentials "would be the envy of any other state," said board member Paul Aucoin, who also served on the search committee.

Savoie will take office following the spring semester, when UL President Ray Authement steps down from leading the university after 34 years of service.

"I will make you proud of the decision and I look forward to serving the university, the Acadiana area, and the state," Savoie told the board.


Savoie had been open about his uncertainty of whether or not the job was for him during his candidacy.

"Professionally, both jobs are equally challenging and exciting," he said after the announcement. "I think the tilting point for me was family considerations."

He and his wife have two children with the youngest still in high school. The family lives in Lafayette with Savoie commuting daily to his offices in the Claiborne Building in Baton Rouge.

Savoie’s annual salary will be $350,000, above the $316,782 currently paid to Authement. However, details of Savoie’s contract will be worked out by UL System President Sally Clausen and board Chair Jimmy Long Sr. and board Vice-Chair Elsie Burkhalter.

Savoie is the state’s higher education commissioner, a position he’s held since 1996.

He’s expected to move into Martin Hall after the spring semester, likely June 30, 2008, according to Board Chair Jimmy Long.

Prior to that, he worked for 18 years for the university serving on Authement’s president’s council as vice president of university advancement from 1992 to 1996.

Because of his long history with the university and ties to Lafayette, including the Blanco family, some opposed his candidacy saying someone with more experience outside the university and state was needed for UL’s future.

Board member Russell Mosely asked Savoie to respond to the criticism, which Mosely called the "elephant in the room."

"I’ve been gone from the university 12 years now," Savoie said. "I have had less interaction with that campus during that time compared to other campuses in the state by nature of the job."

He then listed his credentials with national organizations such as the State Higher Education Executive Officers, which named him their chairman this year; his work on national policy making boards; and his appointment to the Southern Regional Education Board.

The experience doesn’t amount to a "myopic candidate," he said.

Rather, Savoie’s mix of national and state experience make him the ideal candidate, said board member Andre Coudrain. Coudrain said he’s served on eight searches and three others as a student member.

"We’ve had strong local candidates in some searches and strong national candidates in others," Coudrain said. "We have the best of both worlds in Dr. Savoie."

The board interviewed each of the three finalists before moving into deliberations at 5 p.m. An hour later, the board emerged and made a motion in favor of Savoie.

Savoie and his wife, Gail were walked in the room to a round of applause from the crowd gathered for the meeting.

"I suppose that’s good news," Savoie joked before taking his seat before the board.

During his interview Savoie said he’d tackle the recommendations made in the institutional review of the university with the help of an administrative team that reflects the diversity of the community it serves.

That team would include a vice president of finance, a position recommended to be filled in the institutional review conducted as part of the search.

Currently, two assistant vice presidents – one over finance and the other over business services – handle the university’s financial business.

Part of the transition will mean acclimating the community on-campus and off to a new leader.

Savoie said he expects there to be some "angst" at first as folks become accustomed to the change.

Having the community involved in those discussions to help form the goals for the university’s future will help "quell that angst because people will have a common vision in mind," he said.

The university’s physical needs, from deferred maintenance to outdated equipment for faculty and researchers, should be addressed, as well, Savoie said.

The university is currently one of three four-year Doctoral II institutions in the state. LSU is the only four-year Doctoral I institution in Louisiana. The universities are ranked by the number of post-baccalaureate degrees awarded.

Does Savoie think it’s possible that UL should become the state’s next Doctoral I institution? asked student Board member Olinda Ricard on behalf of a UL student.

"I don’t think we should position the university as a competitor with anyone other than ourselves. …The university’s competition is its own deficiencies and we need to concentrate on working on those," Savoie said.

Authement announced his retirement in late April and requested that he stay in his position through the spring semester to hand his grandson, Phillip his diploma at May commencement.

Authement served as the university’s interim president in 1973 and was named president in 1974.

Board member Winfred Sibille acknowledged Authement’s "lifetime of service" to the university during the meeting.

Ricard also acknowledged the experience of Landry, who’s an "asset" to the university and the opinions of those in the community who attended the meetings and sent in comments to the board, she said.

"I very much value your input and acknowledge all you’ve presented to us," Ricard said.

Landry told the board he’d do a lot of talking, but more listening with "those who believe in the university and those who have a stake in it" as he formed his plan for UL.

During his interview, Landry assured the board that he’d have a report on the recommendations made in the institutional review within his first three months in office.

Key issues in the review, in his opinion, included, the university’s landlocked issue, tuition, deferred maintenance, and athletics.

The review included some 36 recommendations for the new president to consider. Consultants visited the campus, interviewed faculty, staff, students, community members and reviewed departments and budgets.

Some recommendations caught finalist, Stanley, a retired U.S. Marine Corps major general, by surprise. He admitted one recommendation that the university reconsider its Division 1-A football status caused the "hair on the back of my neck" to rise.

To address such issues raised in the review, Stanley, too, would have developed an executive team to begin the process of assessing the university’s needs.

Stanley said the university needs to reorganize the office of Alumni Affairs to focus on fundraising. The review found that only 8 percent of alumni give back to the university.

A capital campaign to respond to the deferred maintenance issue son campus should be underway "now, not yesterday" and is something that shouldn’t wait for the new president, Stanley said.

It was not the first time that the board had heard from the candidates. A majority of board members were present for the interviews last month with the five semifinalists.

Landry had the Faculty Senate’s backing because of his academic and research experience, according to Meriwether.

"He’s been a faculty member," Meriwether said while waiting for the board to return with its decision. "He’s been a thesis director, doctoral dissertation director, a department head, research director, vice president of research, vice president of academic affairs. Everything I’ve seen him do, I’ve seen him do it well."

Landry is an asset that the university needs, but Savoie’s experience as commissioner of higher education offered a broader range of experience compared to the other candidates, said Jimmy Long, board chairman.

"Dr. Landry is an outstanding person," Long said. "We really hope he stays where he is and can be part of the team with Dr. Savoie."

Photo Galleries:


Click below for photo gallery at Search Committee Meeting, courtesy Daily Advertiser, Dec. 7, 2007

  • http://www.theadvertiser.com/apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Avis=DG&Dato=20071206&Kategori=NEWS01&Lopenr=712060806&Ref=PH&Profile=1002