By Malcolm Butler
For the past 61 years, Louisiana Tech University has had only three presidents.
From Dr. F. Jay Taylor (1962-1987) to Dr. Daniel D. Reneau (1987-2013) to Dr. Leslie K. Guice (2013-2023), the Ruston campus has known just three leaders since the early 1960s.
And all of them had one thing in common; they were a part of the LA Tech Family prior to taking over the role of president of the University.
So with Tuesday’s announcement of Dr. Guice’s retirement coming at the end of this calendar year, the question bodes: Who is next?
And is there an internal candidate that will rise to the top or will the next president come from outside the LA Tech Family? Or will there be a hybrid candidate? Or someone with little to no Tech ties?
Will the next prez break the mold?
“I think that’s a hallmark of Louisiana Tech is that they have had long-serving presidents that have deep ties to the school,” said Dr. Jim Henderson, President of the University of Louisiana System.
Henderson, who served as President at Northwestern State prior to taking over the role of leader of the UL System, said the process would begin today when the board meets to select the next president of the University of New Orleans. That will be the sixth university President selected in the last seven years within the UL System.
And none of them look the same.
“Each of these searches takes on its own characteristics,” said Henderson. “It reflects the circumstances, both situational and institutional, because each one of these institutions is different. We will begin the thought process of developing a search process (for Tech) and make sure that that’s communicated effectively going forward. But there’s nothing that’s more important for our board than selecting presidents for these institutions. I think if you look at what we’ve done these past seven searches, you’ll see that it’s been reflected in the outcome.”
Guice said on Tuesday that he would not be overly involved in the process.
“I will stay out of the way of that,” said Guice. “Somebody will bring some new things to the table and maybe do away with somethings that we’ve already got started. And I understand that’s part of it. But I do hope they are able to leverage some of the things that we’re doing that have regional and national scale impacts and create greater opportunities for our state.”
So who has the final say on the next LA Tech President?
“That’s the board (that will make the decision), and in consultation with me,” said Henderson. “The way we’re structured, the nine university presidents actually report directly to me as their supervisor, and then I report to the 16-person board. I work closely with them on these operations.
“Sometimes we have an interim. Sometimes a search circumstances allow for us to select the president who will come in as the retiring president leaves. It’s been a mix of both. But I think that would be part of the thought process going forward.”
Guice’s tenure at Tech will end on December 31. It’s a tight window and one that Henderson said may or may not be met by the first of the year.
“We have run some some fairly short searches,” said Henderson. “We did it at Nicholls where we started in late September and October and had a president in place on January 1st. We’ve had other searches, especially those that were delayed or complicated by the pandemic, that took longer than that. At the University of New Orleans, we had a president that announced in February, and we’ll finish that search on Thursday of this week.
“Each one takes on a different flavor, if you will. We will evaluate all of that. It is a short timeline, but it’s certainly not undoable. They key is to find the right person to lead that institution into the next era because it is a promising era for Louisiana Tech.”
Henderson said each search takes on a life of its own.
“There is no litmus test for finding a president,” said Henderson. “If there was, it would make this process so much easier. There are so many variables in play now. It’s a different funding model for higher education. There’s different market pressures. There are different needs of students and needs of employers and needs of regional economies that have changed the whole landscape. And so all of that has to be taken into account.
“You certainly look at history and tradition, but you’ve also got to be looking forward to the possibilities for an institution that is as critical to the state of Louisiana as any. What Louisiana Tech has done over the years of that exemplary leadership, certainly culminating in President Guice, is a national story.
“Whether it’s in advancing new fields of study like cybersecurity, biomedical engineering, or whether it’s in leading the economic renaissance of the I-20 corridor, it’s been forward thinking. Those are things that have to be taken into account. And we certainly want a leader that’s going to recognize that and elevate Tech to its fullest potential.”