October 28, 2009
Monday was a bad day for Grambling State University to be in the middle of a leadership transition.
Declining enrollment at this nationally known campus in north Louisiana had the Postsecondary Education Review Commission discussing how best to market the school for stability and growth. Much of the talk delved into the challenge of location and recruitment and perhaps focusing Grambling on a more limited number of programs.
The issues highlight the critical nature of searching out a new president for Grambling now that Horace Judson has announced an Oct. 31 end to his controversial five-year tenure. This chemist-turned-administrator famously battled meddling alumni from the get-go but more recently found his own faculty arrayed against his administration. Student complaints ranged from campus parking to long waits to see financial aid advisers. Both groups have complained about his isolation and remote management style, symbolized by a fence being erected around the president's home.
Early on, this page argued to give Judson ? who had six predecessors over a 10-year period ? a chance to bring needed reforms to a campus too much influenced by politicians and alumni factions. Even Judson's efforts to overhaul aging utility lines symbolized a campus in need of overhaul. But along the way, we also chided him for his heavy handed effort to control the student newspaper.
In the end, Judson had managed to alienate too many constituencies and sufficiently eroded confidence from the University of Louisiana oversight board to be effective.
The new president not only will have to start anew in seeking campus reforms but also navigating the shifting demands on higher education in a state overbuilt with four-year institutions.
The challenge of perception, that Grambling State is perceived to be in a high poverty area, works against recruitment, said a member of the Southern University Board of Supervisors, Tony Clayton. And yet Grambling State, a historically black university that registered a 5 percent drop in enrollment this fall, sits cheek and jowl with a more robust Louisiana Tech University. Both are located in Lincoln Parish which often reports some of the state's lowest unemployment numbers.
Satellite classrooms and online courses for increasing enrollment are not only strategies for GSU survival but for any institution's relevance in the higher education marketplace. Regardless of the institution, post-secondary education has to be accessible to ensure regional economies are adaptive to industry opportunities and demands.
Complicating Grambling's mission could be a call to raise its admission standards to assure a higher graduation rate. GSU's rate was 36.3 percent for the class of 2002, putting it in the top half of the state's four-year campuses. For Grambling, the Postsecondary Education Review Commission recommended Tuesday a 50 percent graduation rate for the freshman class of 2012.
Finding the right leader for Grambling amid these challenges will be a formidable task. And a successful search must be about serving education and students rather than protecting turf and peddling power.
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