Out of the Loop?

by Leslie Turk

Clausen says Blanco and Authement have no say in presidential search.

UL System President Sally Clausen expects all sorts of rumors, innuendo and speculation to surface in the hunt for a new UL Lafayette president ' just as it has in the four searches she ran in the past. "There is no fix," says Clausen, who says a bona fide national search will be conducted.

She maintains that neither Gov. Kathleen Blanco nor retiring UL President Ray Authement will have a say in who becomes the sixth president of the 107-year-old university. "I have not talked to the governor or anyone else in her administration," Clausen says. "I'm not interested in talking to anyone."

The system president, who will serve as non-voting chair of the search committee, also maintains Authement will play a role only if asked by the committee. She says a more appropriate function for him is to help the new president make a smooth transition into the position. "I think that's a better use of his time," she says.

Clausen insists the process will be open to the public. And while some candidates may not like the transparent method because of its potential to jeopardize their current jobs, Clausen wholeheartedly embraces it ' even more so because of her own experiences as a potential candidate for president of the LSU System. Just last year, she endured immense criticism after two state legislators charged that LSU System President William Jenkins was forced out by then board Chairman Bernie Boudreaux ' Clausen's boyfriend ' to pave the way for her ascension to the more prestigious LSU post. As a result of the controversy, Boudreaux resigned from the board, and Clausen stayed put as head of the UL System. "I've already been through this myself personally, and I know how it can sting," she says.

If she's contacted by the consultant the LSU System hired to seek out candidates, Clausen says she would only apply if her interview is conducted in public. "There are people that are unsure of the process," she notes. "In the long run, the openness serves us better."

Meanwhile, the search committee for Authement's successor, appointed by the UL System board's chairman, Jimmy Long Sr. of Natchitoches, is beginning to take shape and should be finalized by the end of the month. Dr. John Meriwether, who has taught physics at UL Lafayette for four decades, will have a vote in who is recommended as Authement's successor, and longtime English professor Dr. Harry Bruder will serve as a non-voting member of the search committee. The duo was chosen last week by the UL Faculty Senate.

Like Clausen, Meriwether says an above-board national search will be conducted. "All I can tell you right now is what I see and what I'm told," the physics professor says. "If it doesn't turn out to be an open process, I'm not a shy person ' I will speak up."

By December the search committee, primarily consisting of system board members, will recommend a new president to the full board, which makes the final decision.

Baton Rouge's Business Report, however, isn't buying the search rhetoric and made a brazen prediction in its latest issue. The publication typically editorializes on its BalanceSheet page (available only in the print edition), which includes a "What you read" and "What it means" section. Here's what Business Report says about Authement's pending retirement: "Look for the news to set off this chain reaction: E. Joseph Savoie, commissioner of higher education, will take over as chancellor [president in the UL system] at University of Louisiana-Lafayette; Sally Clausen moves from University of Louisiana System president to head the Board of Regents [Savoie's job]; and Jimmy Clarke, who is Gov. Blanco's chief of staff, goes to head the UL System." That same rumored scenario has been making the rounds in some Lafayette Parish School System circles, too.

Clausen is quick to say this kind of speculation shouldn't discourage anyone ' particularly Savoie and UL Vice President of Academic Affairs Steve Landry (another candidate many observers think may be in line for Authement's post) from applying for the job. "I will welcome all candidates," she says. "I am adamant that because someone has spread a rumor, you don't kill off the person."