By: Rebekah Allen
Ruston attorney and former Louisiana legislator Rick Gallot was chosen Tuesday as the newest president of Grambling State University, a mere 26 days after the former president resigned.
The quick turn around was met with mixed reviews by a crowded room of Grambling State alumni, some who traveled from out of state and as far away as Chicago to attend the University of Louisiana System Board meeting, where the decision was made.
“Throughout my years of public service, I have developed a skill set and reputation for being a consensus and coalition builder,” Gallot said in the interview. “One of my first goals is to engage our various stakeholders to harness our energy, ideas, love and commitment to our university.”
While a few alumni said they were supportive of efforts by the board to quickly fill the leadership position, many others were frustrated that the board would seemingly put so little time and energy into selecting the president for Louisiana’s second largest public historically black university, particularly because the institution has had a revolving door of presidents in the past two decades.
Tyrone Davis, the 1975 Grambling State class president, told the board of supervisors that they bore responsibility for the instability at the university for failing to select a leader who can endure. He called it “unacceptable” that the board would rush the selection of a new president and abandon regular protocols that typically call for a national search.
“There’s not another university in the country where you can show me an example of where this has happened,” Davis said. “This board should take 75 percent credit for the failures of this university.”
Just recently, the UL System Board filled the position of Peter Fos, former president of the University of New Orleans. Fos announced his plans for retirement at the end of last August, and officially retired in January. His successor, John Nicklow was selected in late March.
Former president Willie Larkins stepped down June 30 after a scheduled job performance review with the Board of Supervisors. He spent less than one year at the helm of the school.
Marva Nichols Griffin, a Grambling alum who flew in from Chicago to attend the meeting, said her daughter is currently a senior at the university.
“Every year she’s been at Grambling, she’s had a new president. How did we get to this point?” she said. “How did we get to the point where we’re in this much desperation?”
Interim UL System President Dan Reneau said there have been 10 Grambling presidents in the past 25 years, which includes some interim presidents. He acknowledged the turnover has caused instability at the university, which is located outside of Ruston.
Reneau suggested that the reason for the quick turn around in selecting a new president was because of an urgency to provide leadership for the university, which has suffered from loss of dollars and dwindling enrollment. He said the last national search was conducted a year ago, and the board opted to use findings from the previous search, while opening up the position to new candidates in the last month.
“Grambling is in serious trouble,” Reneau said. “It’s had leadership problems, there have been 10 presidents in 25 years. That’s not stability … To me, a long drawn out process of a national search firm over the past years has not worked.”
Gallot did not apply a year ago and was not vetted by the search firm. But the other finalist considered on Tuesday, Gilbert Rochon, a former president of Tuskegee University, was a finalist last year.
Rochon presented himself as the more traditional academic leader. Tuskegee is also a historically black college, and when Rochon was there he increased both enrollment and the university’s endowment. He also was a faculty for more than 18 years at Dillard University.
In total the board received 18 applications, and entertained 11 nominations.
“What Grambling State University needs now, more than anything, is stability. I know the Grambling community, and the community knows me,” Gallot said.
Gallot is an alum of Grambling. His current law practice is located in Ruston and he told the board he has many ties to the school and the community. His mother, Mildred, once was a member of the Grambling State University and University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors.
He served 12 years in the Louisiana state House of Representatives, where he was floor manager for Gov. Bobby Jindal’s ethics bills, and four years as a state senator. He touted his political connections and relationships, and his ability to navigate the politics of higher education funding and policy as one of his strengths.
Gallot received unanimous approval from the Board of Supervisors.
“The Gallot family has a long history with GSU and we think Rick is the strongest choice to be its next leader,” Board Chair Beau Martin said in a statement. “He is passionate about the university and we hope the students, faculty, staff and alumni rallies behind him with support as he takes the helm.”
Gallot’s start date, salary and length of contract have yet to be negotiated.