President Designate F. King Alexander Visits LSU, Meets with Faculty, Staff and Students
In the early 1980s with a dream of playing college basketball, F. King Alexander eyed LSU as a possible destination. While he ultimately played four years of college basketball for St. Lawrence University in New York, years later, he has been tabbed to “run the point” in a much larger capacity.
Alexander, president of California State University Long Beach, has been recommended by the Presidential Search Committee as the consensus candidate for the position of President of LSU.
“It is indeed a great honor for me to be nominated to be president of this very, very great and fine institution,” Alexander said. “I’m humbled that the Board of Supervisors would put their faith and trust in me to be the administrator of this great and important university with its reach to every parish throughout the state, from Shreveport to New Orleans.”
On March 21 and 22, he visited LSU to interact with students, faculty and staff and to meet with key groups. During the visit, Alexander held three public forums with LSU faculty, staff and students. For those who could not attend in person, each forum was streamed online and questions were asked by the audience, both in person and online.
“It is indeed an honor me to be here … it’s an honor for me to be on this campus that I have admired my whole life,” Alexander said.
During each forum, Alexander provided opening remarks so the audience could get to know him more. He discussed his management style, his background and his experience as being president at California State University Long Beach and, previously, at Murray State University.
Alexander, who was born in Louisville, Ky., and raised in Gainesville, Fla., is especially excited about the opportunity to return to the South and is eager to learn more about LSU’s history and traditions.
“I need an LSU 101,” said Alexander, who told the groups that he was there to listen and learn from them about the full value of what LSU means to Louisiana and how the university could look in the future.
Part of that future is reshaping how the public perceives Land Grant Universities. Alexander said the collective capacity of LSU is essential to renewing the great commitment to the land grant initiative and that with LSU being one of few universities in the country that can claim land grant, sea grant and space grant status, LSU can go beyond the national model and can be a national leader in what it means to be a land grant university.
“LSU is positioned better than most to claim that the boundaries of the university are indeed the boundaries of the state,” Alexander said. “The problems that the state deals with are indeed the issues that a great university should be addressing in its classrooms and its labs. LSU is positioned to lead this change and truly is one of a handful of universities nationwide that can help lead this movement.”
Alexander said there are so many different ways the university touches the lives of citizens across the state and that the president’s job is to build up the university to reach and take on challenges in all parts of the state.
“The greatest hope I have is that 10 years from now, someone will look at this university and when they start benchmarking Land Grant Universities, they include us at the top,” he said.
Times have been tough for higher education in both Louisiana and across the country due to the recession, but the timing is right to renew one of the greatest higher education initiatives in the world, the land grant initiative, Alexander said.
“When people say times are tough because this recession is tough, I’d like to remind them that land grant initiative was founded in 1862 between the Battle of Shiloh and Gettysburg,” he said.
Questions at the forums ranged from the serious – higher education’s funding trouble – to the more laid back, such as what does the “F” stands for in his name: Fieldon, which is a family name. Overall the audiences were engaged, were eager to learn more about the potential leader of LSU and get his thoughts on LSU as he sees it from afar.
“From the outside, LSU has an amazing national reputation and is a big player in the national scene,” Alexander said.
An important topic to both faculty and staff is the lack of pay raises over the past few years with the difficulty LSU has felt over the budget. While this is a national trend and higher education is a target for cuts, Alexander acknowledged the hard work and dedication of the university’s faculty and staff.
“This university is succeeding despite a recession, despite everything that’s been done to it,” he said. “Quite honestly, it’s because you’re working harder than you ever have, and you’re serving more students than you ever have.”
Alexander touched on the reorganization process and the work that’s been taking place toward the LSU2015 initiative. He recognizes the amount of work that has taken place thus far, and would like to listen to more people across the system about the process and potential changes to the system.
Alexander stressed that being part of the whole and having a strong flagship leads to success of everyone in the system. He said that LSU should be setting its sights on competing for federal dollars and competing with the biggest and best universities in America, not just in the Southeast.
“I do believe that the timing is right for LSU to take the comprehensive nature of this great university and to be an aggressor on the national marketplace and to challenge some of the biggest institutions that we’ve chased for many years,” he said.
During the faculty forum, Alexander was asked to provide his thoughts on tenure and what tenure means to higher education.
“When people ask me about tenure, I do not think you can simply be a great teacher without conducting research,” Alexander said.
“We have an obligation with tenure and that obligation is to use tenure in the manner that it was created: to use it to challenge society in every aspect of society to make society a much better place,” he added.
While in Baton Rouge, Alexander met with constituent groups, had a lunch meeting with chancellors from across the LSU System, toured the LSU campus and held a press conference with local media. He is expected to end his visit by joining college baseball’s best fans at Alex Box Stadium and to take in LSU’s Friday night game against Auburn.
“I love being here; it’s a wonderful place,” Alexander said.
Prior to becoming president at CSU Long Beach in 2006, Alexander was the president of Murray State University from 2001 to 2006. He received his Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy analysis in 1996 from the University of Wisconsin, his Master of Science in educational studies/comparative educational policy in 1991 from the University of Oxford and a Bachelor of Arts in 1987 in political science from St. Lawrence University.
Under his leadership, CSU Long Beach improved graduation rates to their highest levels in school history; enhanced the number of graduates to their highest levels, totaling approximately 9,000 degrees per year; and obtained capital funding and constructed a new $110 million Hall of Science, a $70 million Student Recreation and Wellness Center and a new School of Nursing facility during an economic recession.
Alexander significantly increased CSU Long Beach’s research and external funding capacity and support. He oversaw a reorganization of CSU Long Beach’s institutional advancement and public relations office, and the university’s private philanthropic giving has set institutional records and currently is in the midst of a first “Capital Campaign,” where more than $200 million has already been raised, resulting in a doubling of the university’s endowment.
During this same time, he maintained and modified budgeting processes to accommodate an $85 million reduction in state appropriation during the economic recession. Alexander was twice voted “President of the Year” by the California State University Student Association, representing 23 student governments and 435,000 students throughout California.
In addition to serving as president at CSU Long Beach and Murray State, Alexander has held positions at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana; University of Wisconsin, Madison; and University of North Carolina at Greensboro.