Last fall, the Xavier University community reeled when Dr. Norman C. Francis announced he was retiring in June 2015. The Board of Trustees immediately announced a search was underway to replace Francis, who has served as Xavier’s president for 47 years. More surprising news hit in January when Provost Dr. Loren Blanchard—whom many considered a possible successor
to Francis—said he is leaving at the end of May.
The Xavier Board of Trustees expects to name a new president by June. But a new provost/vice-president of academic affairs cannot be named until the presidential appointment, board chair Michael Rue told The Xavier Herald.
“It would be unwise for Xavier to make such an important decision without the input of the new president,” Rue said. “In all likelihood, an interim vice president of academic affairs will be hired by the university until a new president is hired.”
In the presidential search committee’s most recent update on Xavier’s website, www.xula.edu, Issacson, Miller—the search firm Xavier hired—reported it has narrowed the number of presidential candidates from 300 to 30. Also, the update said first-round and follow-up interviews will be conducted throughout March. Updates are posted under the “Presidential Search” tab on the home page.
The primary obstacle in this search process is finding the most qualified applicant, said
Gladstone Jones, chair of the
“We need a president that will continue the success and traditions of Xavier,” Jones said, “The very best person that will be embraced by students, faculty, staff, alumni and the City of New Orleans.”
Rue agreed and said, “The biggest challenge is finding a new president of the character, charisma, wisdom and competence of Dr. Francis. Our next president will not be the same as Dr. Francis.”
Moving to a larger system
While his departure may have surprised some people who considered him Francis’s replacement, Blanchard told The Herald in the Nov. 25-Dec. 12, 2014 edition in the article, “Provost: Leader Needs ‘Love, Passion’ For Higher Education,” he had no presidential aspirations. Instead, in July, he will join the California State University system as executive vice-chancellor of academic and student affairs, serving on chancellor Timothy White’s executive leadership team. He is moving from a singular administration with 3,200 students to overseeing the affairs over 450,000 students at 23 separate Cal-State institutions, Blanchard said.
Blanchard is a 1994 Xavier graduate with a bachelor of science degree in speech pathology. He returned to Xavier in the VPAA position in 2008. In 2013, The Board of Trustees named him the university’s first provost. He said leaving his alma mater will be bittersweet.
“Both the president and provost leaving simultaneously can leave a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty, but Xavier is well-positioned for the future and its best days lie ahead,” Blanchard said.
During Blanchard’s tenure, the freshman retention rate increased to 70 percent and the six-year graduation rate rose to 46 percent, according to U.S. News’ College Rankings and university fact sheets. Blanchard’s development of a student academic success office, aimed at crumbling barriers that prevent students from returning to school and finishing their degree programs, compelled Cal-State to make an offer, he said.
While the Board of Trustees held “listening sessions” last semester and invited faculty, students, and alumni to recommend candidates and qualities they would like in a new president, Xavier’s search is closed, Rue said. Unlike public institutions where the search process often reveals names, background and salary information of prospective candidates, private universities like Xavier are not required to reveal any information until the board selects a new president, Rue said. Xavier feels a closed search will attract many senior administrators at educational institutions, he added.
“The very best candidates are almost always unwilling to have their identity revealed,” Rue said, “It can seriously jeopardize their current position.”
While the board is not releasing candidates’ demographic details and the VPAA search is on hold, faculty have their own expectations. Dr. Nicole Greene, Kellogg professor of English at Xavier and American Association of University Professors, treasurer, said she believes the next president and vice president should be published scholars, exceptional teachers, and involved in current research.
“Unless both president and vice president are doing these things, they can’t understand what students and faculty do,” Greene said.
Blanchard’s departure raises concern for faculty, said Dr. Michael Homan, president of the Xavier faculty association. The VPAA works closely with faculty to set the university’s academic objectives and policies, Homan said.
“The new vice president will be just as important as the president,” Homan said.
Students play a role in this transition process as well. SGA president Marcus Jackson said students should be vocal about what they expect from their new president, but also receptive to changes.
“Hopefully, whoever comes in can enhance our student body, academics, and facilities,” Jackson said, “Dr. Francis has made Xavier what it is today, but change is a good thing.”
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