The selection of William Tate as LSU’s next president is earning high marks from a variety of stakeholders, who say the board’s pick of an administrator with strong academic credentials who will also make history as LSU’s first Black president sends a message to the rest of the country that the beleaguered flagship is committed to turning over a new leaf.
“I’m ecstatic,” says Democratic political consultant and prominent LSU alum James Carville. “He’s stepping into a hornet’s nest and he’s got a hard job to do but I’m very excited about it. I’ve gotten a lot of calls from all over. People are very excited.”
Tate, who is currently serving in the No. 2 position at the University of South Carolina, was widely considered among the three finalists for the job to have the strongest higher education credentials, which should also play well with LSU faculty, says Kevin Cope, the former longtime president of the LSU Faculty Senate.
“Of the three finalists, certainly the faculty regard him as the most academic,” Cope says. “He has a real research record and I’m sure the faculty is pleased we finally have a Black president and someone who is not a homegrown product.”
Cope notes that no one on the elected Faculty Senate served on the Presidential Selection Committee and he questions the machinations behind Tate’s late entry into the field. But he also acknowledges that “most faculty are not really interested in the politics of higher ed. They’re just happy to have someone who will sponsor their research.”
Carville says the business community also should be enthusiastic about Tate’s selection and should “embrace him in every way they can.”
Baton Rouge Area Chamber President and CEO Adam Knapp says the chamber has not yet gotten to know Tate and cannot speak about his prior work in economic development. But Knapp says BRAC is “very excited to work with him to partner on innovation, entrepreneurship and retaining graduates after college.”
In terms of how effective Tate will be raising money among major donors, prominent LSU booster Richard Lipsey—a former chair of the Board of Regents, whose daughter, Laurie Lipsey Aronson, is now serving on the LSU board—says it’s too soon to say, though he is hopeful.
“I don’t think we will know how this will play with the donors until Dr. Tate starts calling on them,” Lipsey says. “We need to meet Dr. Tate to see how good a fundraiser he is. But at the moment, we don’t have any fundraising at LSU because King (Alexander) killed LSU and killed fundraising so in my opinion, Tate can only help.”
Lipsey has been a fierce critic of Alexander, Tate’s predecessor, who left LSU at the end of 2019 to become president of Oregon State University, a position from which he was recently forced to resign because of questions about his tenure at LSU.
Alexander has fought back in the local and national media, and blamed political meddling by the board for his problems here. He also has noted a culture of racism in the Deep South that he says pushed back against his attempts to implement holistic admissions standards to LSU that would increase diversity on campus.
Lipsey believes Tate’s hiring will help counter that narrative, though he concedes the incoming president is still something of an unknown commodity.
“We have to give him a chance,” Lipsey says. “Things can’t go down at LSU from here. They can only go up.”
Carville says the fact that Tate will be LSU’s first Black president is significant and will be a much-needed “jolt of energy.” But he says Tate’s race is not what defines his selection or the enthusiasm he’s hearing about it.
“The fact that he’s Black is lagniappe,” Carville says. “He’s really the best guy to do the job.”