Monday, December 13

As some of you may have heard, NASA chief Sean O'Keefe is in the running to be the next chancellor at LSU.

Although CNN cites "sources inside NASA" who say O'Keefe will accept an offer from LSU, the official line from the University is that he will visit the campus on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. The fact that he is the only candidate scheduled for an interview, though, may indicate that this is a formality or a last step in the process.

The Baton Rouge Advocate reports that O'Keefe is the first of about 20 applicants to be granted an interview, but that no offer of the approximately $500,000-a-year job has been made.

Note that most of the information seems to be coming from NASA and non-LSU sources. Just a few hours ago, the University sent a press release to its community announcing O'Keefe's visit and a public forum on Wednesday. It provided a link to O'Keefe's resume and said that the committee will accept feedback from those who get to meet O'Keefe. It's not clear whether all this is just a formality or if the national buzz is getting ahead of itself, but it looks almost certain that O'Keefe will resign from NASA (with *apparently* no guarantee from LSU yet).

At first blush, O'Keefe seems to be a good choice. He's got a solid resume and is a Louisiana native, and has the kind of clout that would seem to fit well with LSU's current goals. Prior to the emergence of O'Keefe's name, I was really hoping we could land someone prominent, both to increase exposure for the school and to have a chancellor with some political clout (retiring Sen. John Breaux's name was bandied around months ago, but my secret wish was for Condi Rice if she were to retire).

Previous chancellor Mark Emmert began implementing the controversial Flagship Agenda before his departure last May for the University of Washington. The Agenda aims to raise LSU's national profile and solidify the University's status as a premier research school. An important step is breaking out of the third tier in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings. Granted, they're just rankings, but many students use them as a basis for selecting a college. The plan requires some questionable steps such as cutting the number of English and math instructors to hire more professors (which can result in larger class sizes).

I hope to meet O'Keefe at the forum Wednesday, and I'll report back on whatever I observe there. I'll also try to keep tabs on local reaction, and thanks to my job at LSU University Relations I can usually hear pretty quickly when big news breaks regarding the University. I have to keep my mouth shut until news is released to the public, but as soon as any info is cleared and sent out I'll pass it along.

A word of advice to O'Keefe or whoever gets the job -- take notes from Emmert's first few months here. When Emmert came to LSU in 1999, he had done his homework and knew the importance of football in Tigertown. Thus, a few months after his hiring he took a very public role in the search for a new football coach following Gerry DiNardo's firing in his 5th season. Emmert made clear that the school would pay what was necessary to get a top-shelf coach. The result? The much-adored Nick Saban and, four seasons later, a national championship.

In my opinion, Emmert earned a great deal of political capital from that move because LSU football fans/University supporters associated him with a winner. That eased the implementation of the Flagship Agenda and made his substantial salary more palatable.

So perhaps Emmert's successor could push for some much-needed changes to the BCS to which BCS officials claim University presidents/chancellors are so resistant...

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