Last Modified: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 12:26 PM
The University of Louisiana System’s new president, Sandra Woodley, began her tour of the nine ULS schools with a visit to McNeese on Friday.
Woodley also met with the American Press’ editorial board Friday morning.
She assumed leadership of Louisiana’s largest public higher education system on Jan. 1, after serving as vice chancellor for strategic initiatives at the University of Texas System.
“I want to spend time with the students and the faculty, particularly just to touch base and get to know them and understand what they’re proud of and issues that they think would be useful for me to learn about,” Woodley said. “We’ll also try to make connections and spend some time with legislative delegations and some community leaders.”
Woodley, who plans to wrap up the nine-campus tour at the end of February, said she wants to meet with academics and administrators within the universities before the legislative session begins in April.
The new president is stepping into her role during a particularly difficult time, she acknowledged. The system is beset with budget cuts while industrial growth is creating a need for educated workers, especially in Southwest Louisiana.
Sasol’s new multibillion-dollar expansion has opened doors for technical and community colleges with new job opportunities. This was followed by Houston-based G2X Energy Inc.’s plan for a $1.3 billion project in the area and Australia-based Magnolia LNG’s announcement it will invest $2.2 billion on land leased by the Port of Lake Charles.
McNeese, in particular, may start to see a demand for engineers — a demand that could prove a challenge to fill.
Woodley said that in terms of trying to fund these needs it would be worth looking into more scholarships for students as well as communicating with industries about additional aid.
“I think we have to look at multiple strategies to be able to find a way to create that supply of engineers that stay in our state and work in those jobs even with funding that does decrease from the general fund,” said Woodley. “It goes beyond a higher education issue; it’s an economic development issue. It’s partnering with the industries and trying to create the economy that we want, not the economy that the projections give you.”
To combat financial problems within the university system, Woodley said, it will be important to work with leaders in the institutions to understand what changes have been made, and could be made, for improvement. She said she is focused on finding the best ways to use available finances while also looking to reduce unnecessary expenses.
Much of Woodley’s background has consisted of dealing with finances, productivity and looking at the analytics within universities. Woodley said it’s with this experience that she hopes to propel the ULS forward in areas important for both the state and students.
“I know that I’m not coming in here with a bunch of new ideas that the institutions don’t already have or have already been working on; that’s part of the reason for this tour, is to understand their thinking,” said Woodley. “When you’re looking at a long-term vision in working with the institutions to quantify and to articulate what your vision is, even in light of really austere financial times, then understanding what they’re already doing and then determining together as a collective team how we can find some additional energies, synergies and initiatives may help us.”