In a high-profile hire, Oregon State University has tapped the sitting president and chancellor of Louisiana State University to be its next leader.
F. King Alexander was announced as Oregon State’s 15th president Friday morning at a meeting of the OSU Board of Trustees, which voted unanimously to confirm the appointment.
“I think you will agree that, today, we found the best of the best,” Chair Rani Borkar said in announcing the board’s decision. “From our perspective, Dr. Alexander is the total package.”
Alexander will assume his new duties on July 1, succeeding Ed Ray, who is stepping down on June 30 after 17 years as OSU’s president. Ray, 75, will remain at the university as a member of the economics faculty.
The board also approved a five-year employment agreement that will pay Alexander a base salary of $366,600 a year plus $263,400 in supplemental compensation from the OSU Foundation for a total annual salary of $630,000. He will also receive $75,000 a year in deferred retirement contributions, but that money only vests in his account if he completes the full five-year term of the initial contract.
In addition, Alexander will be provided with the use of a house and a car by the university and will receive a $40,000 relocation allowance and a $40,000 transition payment.
Ray had been making a total of $786,396 per year. That includes a base salary of $345,324 paid by the university and a contribution of $266,604 from the OSU Foundation. The foundation also provides $174,468 a year toward Ray’s retirement fund.
Alexander, 56, has been president of LSU since 2013. His resume also includes stints as president of California State University at Long Beach from 2005 to 2013 and Murray State University in Kentucky from 2001 to 2005. Prior to that, he held administrative and teaching positions at the University of Illinois and the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.
Alexander holds a Ph.D. in higher education policy and administration from the University of Wisconsin, a master’s degree in educational studies and comparative educational policy from Oxford and a bachelor’s in political science from St. Lawrence University in upstate New York.
Like Oregon State, LSU is a public research university with land grant, sea grant and space grant designations (OSU is also a sun grant school). The main campus in Baton Rouge had 31,761 students in fall 2019, comparable to OSU’s overall enrollment of 32,774.
But the university system over which Alexander presides is bigger than that, encompassing three regional campuses, two medical schools, the LSU Ag Center and Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Statewide enrollment topped 50,000 this year, and the system’s operating budget was $3.1 billion, more than twice OSU’s current budget of $1.4 billion.
LSU is also an athletic powerhouse in the sports-mad Southeastern Conference. The school’s undefeated football team, ranked No. 1 in the country, won the SEC championship and will contend for a national title in this year’s playoffs. By contrast, the 5-7 Oregon State Beavers missed going to a postseason bowl game for the sixth straight season.
Alexander comes to his new job with a reputation as an advocate for higher education at the national level. He participated in the development of the College Scorecard, which provides outcomes-based information on U.S. colleges and universities; has served since 2009 on the Board on Higher Education and the Workforce at the national Academy of Sciences; and has testified before Congress several times on declining state appropriations, soaring student debt and other challenges facing America’s public universities.
Introduced at Friday’s Board of Trustees meeting to a standing ovation from an overflow crowd of several hundred people, Alexander said he was “thrilled to death” to be OSU’s next president.
He got an even louder ovation when he asked the audience to show their appreciation of what his predecessor had accomplished in nearly two decades of leading the university.
Alexander promised to build on the work Ray has done and spoke passionately about the importance of OSU’s land grant charter to serve the public through teaching, research and service.
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“Land grant universities aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, and that’s what I love about being a land grant university,” he said.
“If we’re not tackling the problems of this state, if we’re not tackling the problems of this country, then we’re not being that land grant institution that we were created to become.”
In a short briefing with reporters, Alexander said he was attracted to the OSU job in part by the university’s national reputation for research, including its work on pressing issues such as climate change. He also noted the relatively high career earnings and low student loan debt of OSU graduates and said state lawmakers need to understand their role in keeping tuition affordable.
In response to a question about the next step OSU needs to take, he said the university needs to build on its efforts to broaden its reach throughout the state, especially with nontraditional students.
“The next step is to make sure we are addressing the needs of all learners,” Alexander said.
Alexander commended the university’s online education program, known as Ecampus, which currently serves nearly 7,500 students. He said the program is ahead of the curve nationally but suggested it should do more to serve working-class adults, single parents and the large number of people under the age of 50 who have some college courses under their belt but haven't completed their degree.
“Ecampus helps address the needs of all learners,” he said. “And this is exactly what an emerging land grant university should do in this new century.”
Following the board meeting, Ray introduced Alexander and his wife, Shenette, to the campus community at a public reception in the Memorial Union Lounge.
“Dr. Alexander is the right person at the right time for Oregon State University,” Ray said of his successor.
“We are not going to lose any momentum, and we are going to keep moving forward.”
Alexander came to the podium and spoke for several minutes before mingling with the crowd, stressing many of the same points he made at the board meeting. He also took a moment to address his unusual first name, saying he was christened in honor of his grandfather, who operated King’s Barbershop in Eastern Kentucky.
“I’m named after a barbershop, and that’s as regal as it gets,” he said.
The OSU Board of Trustees has come in for some criticism for conducting a confidential search process to select the new president. Up until Friday, no one knew the identity of any of the candidates except the trustees, their executive search firm, a 15-member search committee and a 26-member stakeholder committee.
OSU Vice President Charlene Alexander, the university’s chief diversity officer, served on both committees and said OSU was able to attract a diverse pool of qualified applicants to succeed Ray. She added that she was pleased with the board’s final choice, citing what she called Alexander’s strong track record in diversifying the student body at LSU.
“His commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is really, I think, phenomenal,” she said.
“I’m very proud of the work we were able to do in getting someone who has a demonstrated commitment to diversity.”