By Robert Mann
The Baton Rouge Advocate is out today with a puff piece about outgoing LSU President William Jenkins.
It’s the kind of story that a significant leader usually gets when he departs office, except Jenkins was not just any significant leader.
Coming to LSU on the heels of the LSU Board’s firing of President John Lombardi, Jenkins was arguably the most powerful man in Louisiana. Except for a live-boy-dead-girl scenario, he was untouchable.
The Board and Gov. Bobby Jindal would never have made a move against him, because firing two presidents in a row would have been disastrous public relations.
Jenkins could say anything he wanted. He could be as bold an advocate for LSU as anyone could imagine. He could challenge his own board in ways that no one before him or after him ever could. He could have stood up to Jindal and shamed him for the damage he’s done to Louisiana higher education.
And Jindal could not have touched him. He wouldn’t have dared.
He was, without a doubt, the most powerful man in the state of Louisiana.
So, what did Jenkins do with his immense power?
He essentially served as a handmaiden for Jindal and the Board. He waited for more than half his term to speak out against the budget cuts that are destroying LSU and, then, only half-heartedly. He stood by as the Board fired Dr. Fred Cerise for his apostasy of opposing the privitization of Louisiana’s health care system. When Cerise was called last month to testify before a Senate committee on the hospital cuts and privitization, Jenkins wouldn’t even grant him vacation leave to testify.
Let me be quick to add, as many of you will no doubt remind me, that Jenkins is a fine person who served LSU with distinction for many years and many capacities. That’s certainly true.
But at the university’s most crucial hour, he failed to lead.