By: Leigh Guidry
BATON ROUGE — By a unanimous vote Tuesday, the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors named Rick Gallot as the new president of Grambling State University. He then presented the school’s fundraising arm with $20,000 to “put his money where his mouth is.”
“I wouldn’t ask anyone to do what I wouldn’t do myself,” Gallot said, presenting a check to a member of the Grambling University Foundation Board of Directors in front of many alumni at the Board of Supervisors meeting. “And I ask all of you to join me in supporting our university, as well.”
Board members joined Grambling alumni and supporters in hoping the school’s newest leader will provide stability and close the “revolving door” of the president’s office.
Rick Gallot was named president of Grambling State University at a meeting Tuesday. He then presented $20,000 to Grambling University Foundation Board of Directors member Janet Duncan Barnes, who hugged him before accepting the check. (Photo: Leigh Guidry/The Advertiser)
The North Louisiana school has seen three presidents in three years, losing its most recent choice when Willie Larkin resigned June 23. He had been in the job less than a year.
“Ten presidents in 25 years — that’s not stability,” UL System interim President Dan Reneau said, calling it a “leadership problem” at Grambling.
That has not always been the way at Grambling. The school’s first three presidents served a combined 90 years, alum Joseph Carter said.
“The last 25 years have been a revolving door,” Carter told the board during public comments, adding that programs have been cut along the way. “Each time a program is dropped a part of Grambling dies. It chokes off her lifeblood — the students. No programs, no students, no Grambling.”
Gallot — a 1987 GSU graduate, former state senator (D-District 29) and Ruston attorney — wants to change that.
“I’m here to become the first long-term president since Joseph B. Johnson,” Gallot told the board, referring to Grambling’s third president. “… My school, our school, needs a leader.”
Gallot was among two candidates nominated Tuesday morning for the position. His contender was Gilbert Rochon, a New Orleans native and former president of Tuskegee University in Alabama.
Gilbert Rochon vies for Grambling president (Photo: Leigh Guidry/USA TODAY Network)
Rochon is on the president’s council for the University of New Orleans and was the “runner-up” from the last Grambling presidential search, which wasn’t too long ago. He joked Tuesday that he was “delighted to experience deja vu” in coming before the board another time.
If Gallot was the political candidate, Rochon clearly was the academic. He graduated from Xavier University, Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and spent much of his career in environmental health research.
“I realize I am a nontraditional candidate,” Gallot said, pointing to his career in law and the legislature rather than in academia.
But he also pointed to similar situations at schools such as Xavier and Southern University that he said have seen success with “nontraditional candidates.”
“Grambling does not need a leader in an ivory tower (or) a leader who takes a year to learn everyone’s names,” he said.
He touted his relationships with powerful players in state and national politics as a way to accomplish goals for GSU and the UL System.
“I believe these relationships will pay dividends for the entire University of Louisiana System,” Gallot said. “… I understand what it takes to get things done in the Louisiana Legislature … in real and very practical terms.”
He also talked of his “record of service” with the university and Grambling community; he began as an adjunct professor after he graduated law school and continued to his time as a Grambling City Councilman and later a state legislator.
“The last 26 years I have been serving the Grambling and Lincoln Parish area,” he said.
His donation Tuesday wasn’t his first time to give of himself to his alma mater, he said.
“I’ve not only given of my time but of my personal resources for my school,” he said. “… I don’t think you’ll ever interview any other candidate who is more invested in Grambling State University and the community — ever.”
Gallot does not have a start date yet, as the board now will negotiate his contract. He wants to “hit the ground running,” and high on his list of priorities is reinstating Grambling’s undergraduate nursing program, which was discontinued in 2015 after the state nursing board pulled its approval of the program. This would not only help increase enrollment, but also the school’s national brand, he said.
“We’re ready to get to work,” he said.
He also wants to use his “bridge-building skills” to mend fences among faculty, staff and alumni and rebuild relationships with local and national partners.
“In terms of local relationships, we’ve had support historically from partners who simply have not gotten the call (recently),” Gallot said. “We have relationships right at home that have to be rekindled” as well as national partners, he added.
The Board of Supervisors also was expected to name a system president Tuesday, but that was removed from the agenda after one of the two finalists dropped out of the running Sunday, according to a UL System spokesperson.
Former Texas Tech University President M. Duane Nellis removed himself from candidacy for the position, the spokesperson said, leaving only Uroyoan R. Walker-Ramos, president of the University of Puerto Rico System. Walker-Ramos will remain a finalist position, and the system likely will reopen the application and nomination process.
In the meantime Dan Reneau will remain interim president of the UL System, a position he has held since December after the resignation of former President Sandra Woodley.