BREAKING: McNeese presidential search down to two

Published 6:03 pm Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Two finalists have been selected for the search for McNeese State University’s new president: Andy Benoit Jr. and Wade Rousse.

The University of Louisiana System McNeese Presidential Search Committee began the journey to find a new university president after current president Daryl Burckel announced that he is set to retire on June 30. 

Burckel is a two-time McNeese graduate, and took the helm as McNeese president in 2017 after serving as the head of the McNeese Department of Accounting, Finance and Economics. 

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Earlier this month, four semifinalists – Benoit, Shadow Robinson, Rousse, Allen P. Vital – were selected out of a pool of 18 potential candidates.

On Tuesday, April 16, the semifinalists visited McNeese’s campus for interviews with faculty and staff, students, alumni and community members. These interviews served as an opportunity for stakeholders to interact with the candidates and give the Search Committee feedback to be considered during the selection process.

Semifinalists were pubically interviewed for an hour and subsequentially interviewed in executive session on Wednesday, April 16. Questions during the public interview were posed by members of the Committee and through public comment cards. 

Both Benoit and Rousse mentioned their connection to McNeese, the university’s reputation and intentions to advance the institution in their opening statements.

Benoit is the vice president of enrollment management at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi, but his personal connection to McNeese runs deep. He grew up in Welsh and attend McNeese State University for his Bachelor of Arts in speech communication and a Master of Education in instructional technology. With the campus still in recovery, he knows that the incoming president will have a heft responsibility.

“McNeese has challenges now, has gone through some extraordinary things over the course of the last few years. The leader selected in this position comes in at an inflection point. We have the opportunity to make an impact on McNeese State University for many years to come. This university has been a cornerstone of this community, Southwest Louisiana and our state and region for 85 years.  It is my job as president to help make sure that it goes beyond another 85 years,” he said.

As Executive Vice President of McNeese, Rousse has first-hand experience with the hurdles the new president will have to leap. He noted that he is already aware of the issues and concerns that faculty and staff have voiced, and said that he is already atune to the students on campus.

“Our students are amazing and they are the reason we do what we do. If you spend a little time with them, you can’t yourself but being optimistic about the future of our region and the great state of Louisiana. … I think I’m uniquely positioned to address the faculty and staff concerns, and I believe I will be able to transition into the role of making certain that our hurricane damaged campus is transformed to state-of-the-art facilities and incredible student experiences.”

Thought they did not make it to the final round, Robinson and Vital shared strong sentiments towards the position and McNeese.

In his opening statement, Robinson, provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs, University of Arkansas, said that his passion for collegiate institutions stemmed from the way his life has benefited from education. He was one of the few student from his Kansas high school graduating class to go to college; He believes that the opportunity for a higher education should be accessible to all.

“We like to talk about how colleges change lives, and they pretty much do that, but there is so much more. College changed the trajectory of my life.”

Vital, chief of staff for the office of the president, Southern University System, also has close ties to McNeese; His mother is a retiree of the university. He had hoped to bring his over three decades of collegiate administrative experience to the Univserity. He stated that his current role often requires him to take on responsibilities of a president, especially during cabinet meetings.

“Fortunatnely being in those meetings exposes me to being in a lot of diverse conversations. … It was an opportunity when I first sat at the table to lead one of those cabinet meetings that I actually realized that I was prepared for that type of role because I could understand across the board what each individual was talking about, if it was finance, academic affairs, student affairs.

Next week, the Board of Supervisors will interview finalists in Baton Rouge and select the new McNeese president.