After months of turmoil and change, UNO seeks a president; officials hope to select by Dec. 9

Kevin McGill, Associate Press

NEW ORLEANS – University of Louisiana officials said Thursday they hope to select the next leader for the system’s newest institution – the University of New Orleans – by Dec. 9.

That goal was part of a timeline tentatively adopted at the first meeting of a search committee tasked with finding the successor to Tim Ryan, the former chancellor who was ousted a year ago when UNO was still part of the Louisiana State University system.

“We think it is very, very important to stabilize the leadership here at UNO,” University of Louisiana System President Randy Moffett said.

UNO was founded as the New Orleans campus for LSU more than 50 years ago. In recent years it has weathered flooding from Hurricane Katrina and a subsequent drop in enrollment and state budget cuts. Since Ryan’s ouster, there have been lingering questions about its future.

State lawmakers this year approved switching the New Orleans camps to the University of Louisiana System, which governs other four-year universities around the state, including UL campuses at Lafayette and Monroe, Louisiana Tech, Grambling State, Northwestern State, McNeese State, Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana.

Lawmakers had also considered, but rejected, a suggestion from Gov. Bobby Jindal to merge UNO with neighboring, predominantly black Southern University at New Orleans, a politically and racially charged proposal that drew sharp opposition from SUNO supporters and most political figures in New Orleans.

The switch to the UL system was largely welcomed on the UNO campus, where faculty members have acknowledged a feeling of neglect by LSU officials they believed to be more focused on the state’s flagship university, LSU at Baton Rouge.

The committee that will select the new top official, largely made up of members of the University of Louisiana Board of Supervisors, expects to begin advertising for applicants next week. As UL System President Randy Moffett said, the person will be the first president of the University – the title for the top executive was chancellor under the LSU system.

Committee members are moving ahead with the search even though the transfer from one system to another won’t be official until it is approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. That approval is expected by early December, committee chairman Winfred Sibille said.

The selection will cap more than a year of uncertainty and occasional tumult at the university.

Students protested budget cuts at a demonstration a year ago. Then there was Ryan’s emotional ouster amid disagreements with LSU. That was followed by the debate over the SUNO merger and then the switch to the UL system. The search for Ryan’s replacement was suspended as lawmakers debated the university’s future.

Search committee members held their initial meeting in the same large meeting room where Jindal signed the transfer bill several weeks ago. They stressed that they want the search to be an open process and they scheduled a public hearing to gather opinions from faculty and staff.