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Photos of Rick Gallot and Jeff Landry

Rick Gallot (left), the new president of the University of Louisiana system, signed his contract late last month after new governor Jeff Landry (right) asked for a hiring pause.

Photo illustration by Justin Morrison/Inside Higher Ed | University of Louisiana System | State of Louisiana

Rick Gallot was hired in October to be the next head of the University of Louisiana system. But the former Democratic state lawmaker and past president of Grambling State University didn’t sign his contract until late last month.

Why the holdup? Jeff Landry, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who won election in November, wanted to meet with Gallot and weigh in on the pick. In local news interviews, Landry has emphasized the importance of having a say in the direction of the UL system. And as Landry sought a conversation with Gallot, the contract for the system head hung in limbo. (Due to an editing error, this paragraph inaccurately described Landry as defeating the Democratic incumbent. The story has been updated to reflect that there was no incumbent; he had reached his term limit.)

Meanwhile, on the very same day that Gallot was hired, the same board appointed his UL system predecessor, Jim Henderson, to be president of Louisiana Tech University—and quickly finalized his contract.

The new governor took office Sunday, and now critics are worried about the future of higher education in the state, where Landry has lately taken aim at public institutions.

The Hiring ‘Pause’

According to the state Constitution, Louisiana’s governor does not get a say in hiring practices for the UL system. Instead, the governor appoints the members of the Board of Regents as well as to the state boards, which make such hiring decisions. But Landry insisted the board hold off on finalizing Gallot’s hire. (This paragraph has been updated to correct the way system heads are hired.)

“I’m not opposed to anything,” Landry told local news organizations last month. “I want to be able to meet with the board, and with Rick, to make sure the direction that they want to steer the system is the direction that people of this state believe the system should be directed.”

Landry requested a pause in the hiring process, he said, to ensure that his vision meshed with Gallot’s.

“When you got a change of governorship—a new governor comes in—he’s taking a new direction, and he or she should be afforded the respect to visit with those folks to make sure that they all align,” Landry told local media before he assumed office.

(Landry did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Inside Higher Ed.)

Gallot later confirmed that he did speak with Landry, telling local news organizations, “I had a great conversation with Governor-Elect Landry where we discussed our shared goal of making Louisiana a better state and improving our higher education enterprise.”

In an email to Inside Higher Ed, Gallot expounded on the delay.

“The Board of Supervisors and I were unable to discuss my appointment in earnest until the outgoing System President’s contract was finalized on December 16. Governor Landry and I discussed our shared goal of making Louisiana a better state and improving our higher education enterprise,” Gallot said in a statement. “I look forward to working with him and other state lawmakers to reach that goal.”

Pulling Back on DEI?

Just days after his inauguration, public institutions in the state already seem wary of Landry. Some made changes to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives prior to his assuming office this week; Louisiana State University, for example, renamed its Division of Inclusion, Civil Rights and Title IX late last week, striking the word “inclusion” and renaming the office the Division of Engagement, Civil Rights and Title IX.

LSU president William Tate IV told students the change was made to focus on engagement.

“Engagement is defined in several ways. We use two forms of the definition,” he wrote in a message to students posted Friday. “For us, it represents a two-way process that enables change on both sides. To fully deliver on the promise our flagship offers, we must engage with each other to exchange views and experiences and share potential solutions to our most pressing challenges. Second, engagement reflects a serious commitment. We must commit to find ways to translate our discoveries and talent to serve and elevate the state and its people.”

LSU’s diversity statement has also been removed from its website. And as The Louisiana Illuminator reported, LSU has removed a webpage for a lecture series titled “Racism: Dismantling the System.” Videos of the lecture series can no longer be viewed on YouTube. (Asked about this change, LSU spokesman Todd Woodward pointed to an article in the student newspaper that quotes Manship School of Mass Communication dean Kimberly Bissell, who said that the decision was due to a website redesign and that the videos were removed from YouTube to add transcripts and make them compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.)

The Illuminator also reported changes beyond LSU’s main campus; the Louisiana State University of Alexandria made a similar name change to drop “inclusion” from the name of its DEI office.

Woodward said by email that Landry had not “asked, issued or weighed in on anything regarding LSU.” He pointed to the university president’s announcement Friday, adding that “LSU is a place of equal opportunity for everyone” and “that has not changed.”

A frequently asked questions page on the renamed division’s website also offers an explanation.

“The Division’s name was changed to better represent our continuous dedication and commitment to serving the LSU community. Given the proactive nature of our efforts, we believe in fostering a collaborative partnership with community members to promote student success and ensure equal opportunities for all students, faculty, and staff. This name change reflects the dynamic impact that our division has across LSU’s campus,” the page says.

Faculty members have raised concerns about DEI language being scrubbed from LSU websites, with some professors noting they will continue to advance such efforts even as LSU appears to backtrack.

“They (@LSU) can take DEI off their websites. They can quietly scrub departments’ websites of DEI. They won’t erase the good work we do. They can’t make me stop advocating for Diversity and Equity,” Linda M. Hooper-Bùi, an LSU environmental sciences professor, wrote on X.

In an interview with Inside Higher Ed, Hooper-Bùi questioned whether the move was made in response to Landry taking office and suggested that, if so, LSU leaders were essentially “cowing to a bully.” She added that the move came as a surprise and the university offered a “word salad” explanation for the changes.

Hooper-Bùi used her ecologist lens to examine the wisdom of dialing back DEI efforts.

“Every single organism in an ecosystem is really important. And when you have lots of different kinds of organisms, ecosystems work really well,” she said. “Same with humans; when we have lots of different kinds of people who have been raised in many, many ways, and who have different ways that they look at life, those folks make universities really dynamic—they bring out the very best ideas. We always come out with the very best work when we bring everybody to the table.”

National DEI advocates have also expressed concern about the pre-emptive DEI changes.

“We see how coordinated legislative attacks across the country are having a chilling effect on how institutions are approaching diversity, equity and inclusion work. Students will suffer as a result,” Paulette Granberry Russell, president and CEO of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, said in an emailed statement to Inside Higher Ed. “Diversity officers help institutions advance their academic missions and support their students. It is a travesty that in our highly politicized environment, colleges and universities feel as though they are not able to fully embrace this evidence-based work for fear of repercussions from lawmakers.”

A Chilling Effect

With Landry now in the governor’s mansion, some fear the worst for higher education in Louisiana.

Robert Mann, a former press secretary for several past Democratic governors in the state and a tenured professor at LSU who has clashed with Landry before, is retiring later this year—largely because he expects the governor to be hostile to higher education.

That belief is informed in part by Landry’s call for LSU to punish Mann in December 2021, amid tensions over COVID-19 vaccinations during the coronavirus pandemic. Landry, who was state attorney general at the time, opposed vaccine mandates. He sent an aide to an LSU Faculty Senate meeting to read a letter opposing stricter vaccine policies. Mann called the aide a “Flunkie” in a social media post and criticized Landry’s position on vaccines. Landry responded on social media and in a message to university leaders on state letterhead, accusing Mann of violating the “Commitment to Community” rule in the LSU Faculty Handbook.

While Mann was never punished, he is worried that the new governor could use the grudge against him to go after LSU. Landry’s election prompted Mann to announce his retirement; he has been sharply critical of the new governor, warning fellow academics about expected attacks.

Mann believes state institutions are already feeling the new governor’s impact. Mann told Inside Higher Ed he doesn’t remember a prior instance of a governor seeking to approve a system head hire. Mann also worries that higher education leaders are proactively making changes to appease Landry. He suggested that the unexplained removal of LSU climatologist Barry Keim last week has created a chilling effect in the state.

“It’s too soon to tell, but already the sense is that Landry will exert a lot of control over higher education. Some of it will be overt but as we’re seeing in LSU’s case, a lot of it will be university leaders obeying Landry in advance, trying to avoid having to take orders from him by proactively imposing some of his perceived policies on their campus. What LSU did on diversity was 100% a case of performing for Landry,” he wrote in a direct message on the social media platform X.

During Landry’s inauguration speech Sunday, he mentioned K-12 education but not postsecondary education. And some critics, including Hooper-Bùi, said his speech suggests the governor has little understanding of what DEI actually is.

Hooper-Bùi pointed to a passage in which Landry talked about how his mother—a K-12 teacher—helped female students start a basketball team more than 50 years ago.

“At that time women’s sports was aspirational at best, second-class at worst,” Landry said, noting that his mother fought for court time and helped sew the team’s uniforms.

“That’s a diversity, equity and inclusion story,” Hooper-Bùi said. “That was before Title IX. That’s a big mountain those folks had to climb, and it’s impressive his mother did that. To honor her legacy, embracing diversity, equity and inclusion, giving people a seat at the table, giving people opportunities or allowing people to have opportunities, is exactly what he needs to be doing.”

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