Qualities of next ULM head noted

By Stephen Largen, Monroe NewsStar

The University of Louisiana at Monroe Presidential Search Committee won’t hold an on-campus meeting to solicit public input for at least another few months. However, prominent members of the ULM family already have some ideas about what qualities the university’s next president should have.

The committee will search for a replacement for current ULM President James Cofer, whose last day in Monroe is July 30.

He takes over at Missouri State University Aug. 1.

William McCown, a psychology professor at ULM who’s been at the school since 1995 and served under two university presidents, said ULM’s next leader must have budget-management experience.

“We’re really in fiscal crisis,” McCown said.

“The bottom line is there needs to be somebody who makes it their mission to preserve the university.”

McCown said he fears the possibility of an outsider being brought in by the system to “basically to get rid of what they see as the superfluous baggage,” he said.

“My fear is that the outsider, regardless of who he or she is, will be brought in with an agenda,” McCown said.

McCown said he’s inclined to support a presidential candidate who has experience in Louisiana.

“There have been some excellent candidates mentioned from within the UL (University of Louisiana) System,” he said.

“There’s going to be a big learning curve for an outsider.”

McCown, who served as a member of Cofer’s expanded cabinet, said concerns that Cofer didn’t focus enough attention on the academic side of the university are unfounded and the committee shouldn’t train its eyes solely on a candidate from an academic background.

“People didn’t know that behind the scenes Dr. Cofer was somebody who had a pretty good academic background,” McCown said.

The city of Monroe’s Economic Development Officer Dwight Vines, who served as ULM’s president from 1976 to 1991, said the next ULM president should have management experience.

He said the ideal candidate should also have a track record that was built at a university.

Generally, those candidates produce better results, though candidates from a business background can also occasionally be successful, Vines said.

Vines said the next ULM president’s chief challenges will be maintaining enrollment and paying down the university’s debt.

“I think (the search committee) needs to welcome qualified candidates from wherever they’re from,” Vines said.

“I would hope it’s an open search.”

Jeffrey Cass, the dean of ULM’s College of Arts and Sciences, shares that view.

“It’s always a mistake to try to predetermine the course of the search,” Cass said.

“Sometimes outsiders can be helpful because they have no axes to grind or predetermined loyalties. Simply go with the best candidate.”

Linda Holyfield, a ULM alumnus, is the president and chief executive of P&S Surgical Hospital in Monroe and served on the last presidential search committee that eventually selected Cofer.

She said it doesn’t matter whether a prospective candidate has experience in Louisiana, but he or she should have the “sophistication to work with government officials at all levels.”

“It doesn’t take savvy people long to figure out the politics,” Holyfield said.

She said the ideal candidate will have a blend of financial and academic expertise.

“Is that real person out there is the question,” Holyfield said.