Ray Authement, beloved educator and University of Louisiana at Lafayette president, dies
William Taylor Potter, Lafayette Daily Advertiser, April 5, 2020
Ray Authement and his wife Barbara Authement are joyful after recieving their awards on Fri. October 19, at the UL Alumni Center. (Photo: Amanda Hovey, Special to The Advertiser)
Ray Authement, the beloved educator who led the University of Louisiana at Lafayette for more than 30 years, died Sunday, the university announced. He was 91.
Authement led UL from 1973 to 2008, becoming the longest serving president of a public university in the country. During his time at UL, Authement helped the university become the first Louisiana university to acquire the Multiplexed Information and Computing Service (second nationally to MIT); install a fiber optic backbone; earn a Doctoral II research designation; establish an intensive care lab for nursing students; and obtain an atom smasher, among other accomplishments.
“As the longest serving public university president in the United States, Dr. Authement laid the foundation for the extraordinary advancement of UL Lafayette into a national model and a source of pride for Louisiana," said Jim Henderson, the system president, in a press release. "Countless students and multiple generations were blessed by his leadership.”
Past coverage: Former UL President Ray Authement to be honored
UL was also the first university in the country to build a birthing lab with computerized patient simulators for the nursing program and establish a center to promote bilingualism.
Authement grew up in Boudreaux Canal, a town near Cocodrie. In 1947, he attended Southwestern Louisiana Institute, now UL. He was a first generation college student, and he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1950.
Authement earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in mathematics from Louisiana State University, in 1952 and 1956, respectively. He taught at LSU and McNeese State University before coming back to Southwestern as an associate professor of mathematics in 1957.
'He guided our growth...'
Louisiana Lafayette's president Dr. Ray Authement received an award from the athletic department Thursday Jan. 31, 2008 during the Ul Middle Tennessee basketball game at the Cajundome in Lafayette, La. (Photo: Brad Kemp, DAILY ADVERTISER)
He became a professor two years later. He taught until 1966, when he was promoted to academic vice president. At that point, the university had become the University of Southwestern Louisiana. In 1970, Authement was named vice president.
Authement became the acting president in 1973 when his predecessor, Clyde L. Rougeau, took a leave of absence. Rougeau retired in 1974, and Authement became president.
In 2009, Authement was named President Emeritus of the university.
“Through dedication, determination and selflessness, he changed how the university saw itself and how others perceived it as well. He guided our growth from a strong regional university to one recognized nationally and globally for its research and scholarship," UL Lafayette President E. Joseph Savoie said in a press release.
Authement made a lasting impression on UL, with the Ray P. Authement College of Sciences bearing his name.
Photos of Dr. Ray Authement President of UL. (Photo: Photos from UL Arcives)
Among Authement's most well-known — and most noticeable — contributions are the decision to change the university's name from the University of Southwestern Louisiana to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and the construction of the Cajundome.
When Authement took over at UL — then the University of Southwestern Louisiana — in 1973, he had a clear vision for the university's future, said Julie Johnson, Authement's daughter.
"He had a dream for what the university could be, and that dream is why it is what it is today," she said.
For decades, Authement and his wife, Barbara, were the faces of UL. Johnson recalls that her mother was well-known for her dedication to wearing red at any university event.
"She was the social aspect of him," Johnson said. "Always in red. And she pointed out when other people didn't. It was the uniform of our home."
"It was a regional school. He came in ... and he had a vision to, not only make us a region and a state, but a nationally known institution," said Philippe Prouet, Authement's grandson. "It really kind of put us on the map. In doing that, we became nationally known in many different things."
Authement retired immediately after Prouet's graduation from UL in 2008.
UL President Ray Authement, left ,and Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco attend a ceremony to honor UL's team CajunBot on Thursday morning at Martin Hall on the UL campus in Lafayette. UL's CajunBot team recently returned from the Department of Defense's race of driverless vehicles where CajunBot II didnÕt pass its final qualifying tests. (Photo: Claudia B. Laws, The Daily Advertiser)
A large part of Authement's legacy at UL was his focus on research. During his tenure, the Carnegie Foundation named UL a “research university with high research activity.” He also was responsible for developing the University Research Park.
When the oil and gas industry collapsed in the 1980s, Authement was also part of the efforts to diversify the local economy, according to a UL press release.
"There was a time when I was in school that everybody was leaving," Johnson said. "The economy was bad. Oil prices were falling. He really focused on how to diversify the economy and let the university be a producer of jobs."
Johnson also graduated from UL under Authement.
As a father and grandfather, Prouet and Johnson said, one of the most impressive things about Authement was his ability to "take a penny and turn it into a dime."
"He had this propensity to save money and to invest," Johnson said. "It made me mad as a child."
In 2019, Authement was given a lifetime achievement award from the Critical Limb Ischemia and Limb Salvage Club of Lafayette recognizing his work for UL. One of the club's founders, Dr. David Allie, was a friend of Authement.
"I knew him as a mathematician, as a computer guy. I'm talking 25 years ago, he was doing things and trying to do things that other universities didn't," Allie said. "I'm just appreciative of everything that guy did."
Athletic Network Footnote by Dr. Ed Dugas.
Click here for Dr. Authement speaking at the 2004 Athletic Network Annual Meeting.
John and I were honored when an earlier appointment with Dr. Authement had to be postponed and we were given an appointment in the morning of his last official day as president. We used a computer in his outer office, as the one in his had been disconnected. With John at the keyboard, he and I discussed many postings available on the Athletic Network and John would bring them up.
Click here for Dr. Authement's Athletic Network Profile.