boston.com News your connection to The Boston Globe

After UMass shakeup, chancellor reportedly in line to lead LSU

John Lombardi , the polarizing chancellor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who was under pressure to leave after a shakeup of university leadership this spring, will be tapped this week to become the next president of Louisiana State University, according to two sources familiar with the search.

A 17-member search committee on Friday is expected to recommend Lombardi as the sole candidate to succeed outgoing President William Jenkins . The LSU Board of Supervisors , which oversees the 11-campus 54,000-student system , would then vote on his candidacy next week.

The sources, one from LSU and one from the University of Massachusetts, spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid upstaging the search committee's announcement. The Baton Rouge Advocate reported yesterday that Lombardi is the search committee's top choice. The system is based in Baton Rouge.

Lombardi, 64, who in 2002 became chancellor of the nearly 19,000-student university, could start at LSU this fall. Jenkins, who announced his retirement 17 months ago, has agreed to stay on as president until his replacement arrives, said Charles Zewe, LSU spokesman.

Zewe said the search committee has primarily been interviewing candidates in private.

The news that Lombardi was poised to leave Amherst follows the recent controversy over system president Jack M. Wilson's sweeping shakeup of top university leadership. Under Wilson's plan, Lombardi was to leave as chancellor at the UMass flagship campus after the end of the next school year. Some faculty leaders criticized Wilson for ousting Lombardi, who had been critical of Wilson's plan to weave the five campuses more closely together.

Robert Connolly , a UMass system spokesman, said in a statement that the school had already begun preparing for Lombardi's departure.

"We value the contributions John Lombardi has made during his years at UMass-Amherst but have understood for a number of weeks that Chancellor Lombardi is moving on, and we, therefore, have already been looking to the future," he said.

For many faculty members, Lombardi's departure doesn't come as a surprise.

"It was clear their relationship was not going to work out," Max Page , president of the UMass-Amherst faculty union, said of Wilson and Lombardi. "People had come to realize his [Lombardi's] time was coming to an end here, whether we liked it or not."

Page, who is a critic of Wilson's reorganization, said the faculty wants a national search for Lombardi's successor and has passed a resolution opposing any interim chancellor being named permanently.

"We don't want a chancellor installed from the president's office," he said.

John Armstrong, a former UMass trustee who resigned in protest over Wilson's plans, said that Lombardi would be deeply missed but that his appointment revealed his value and reputation.

"If it's true, it's a great loss for the University of Massachusetts and Amherst," he said. "What it indicates to me is that people elsewhere in the world understand academic leadership better than the folks here in Massachusetts."

Armstrong said it would be impossible to find a comparable chancellor who was willing to work with Wilson and the trustees. He has said Lombardi's impending departure has cost some $11 million in donations.

Lombardi has been hailed as a charismatic visionary throughout his academic career, but also has been dogged by controversy. He resigned under pressure as president of the University of Florida in 1999, reportedly because of an abrasive management style. In 1998, he apologized for using the word Oreo to refer to a black university official. He stayed on at the University of Florida as the head of an academic center until 2002, when he became chancellor of UMass-Amherst. A specialist in Latin America, he was previously a provost and vice president at Johns Hopkins University and a dean at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.

At Amherst, he received high marks for his leadership but was seen as unreceptive to centralization efforts and dismissive of the UMass board of trustees, which oversees the system.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES