Friday, June 21, 2024

Farewell, Chancellor Clark: BIZ. sits down for one final interview ahead of Larry Clark’s retirement

by BIZ Magazine

After a more than 45-year career, LSU Shreveport Chancellor Larry Clark will retire on June 30, 2023. During Clark’s tenure, LSUS has seen growth in the total number of degrees awarded this past year; ranked programs; increased funding for campus initiatives; and new pathways of opportunity for graduates.

Clark returned to LSUS as chancellor in 2014 after having served as a faculty member and Dean of the School of Business from the early 1980s through the mid-1990s. In the interim, Clark served as Dean of the schools of business at Sonoma State University and the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Just as he became dean at LSUS, Clark became the youngest lead author of a major business textbook with McGraw-Hill Inc. 

In an initiative begun by his predecessor Interim Chancellor Dr. Paul Sisson and brought to fulfillment by Clark and a core group of dedicated faculty, LSUS has achieved national prominence for its online programs. This enabled LSUS to increase enrollment from nearly 4,000 to over 8,600 students. More recently, LSUS has collaborated with LSU Health Shreveport to create research opportunities for both faculty and students, as well as joint academic programs. During this past legislative session, LSUS was granted $2.5M to support cybersecurity initiatives that closely link to a previous $1.2M Louisiana Economic Development grant and will enable the University to establish an on-campus Security Operations Center in the LSUS Technology Center.

During Clark’s tenure as chancellor, cutting-edge places for learning and research have transformed the LSUS campus, including the centralized Student Success Center, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, IdeaSpace, Cyber Collaboratory, Pilot Education Center, Human Performance Lab and Veterans Resource Center. In the last five years alone, LSUS has hired more than 60 new faculty members, purchased Pilots Pointe Apartments for our students, upgraded the athletics facilities, acquired the Spring Street Historical Museum, and increased wages for faculty and unclassified staff.

BIZ. Magazine Vice President Randy Brown, an alumnus of LSUS and former student of Clark’s business class, sat down with the outgoing chancellor to reminisce and reflect on his nearly-decade-long tenure.

Randy Brown, BIZ. Magazine: What were the top 5 agenda items when you took the reigns as LSUS chancellor?

Larry Clark: There’s no question the foremost item, was budget. When I accepted the position, I sought budget authority from the day I accepted. I began going over the budget before I started on July 1, 2014, and secured a $1.5M letter of credit from LSU, that I ended up never using. 

The second was securing sources of revenue and the third was how to motivate the faculty and staff once they learned of the financial difficulties. There was a defeatist cloud over LSUS from the discussions of merging LSUS and Louisiana Tech. Those were real challenges, but the great thing is that we closed that year and received a clean report. We never got close to having layoffs. 

The hero of the story is Interim Chancellor Dr. Paul Sisson and a group of faculty leaders to make economic partnerships and decided to go online with MBA and a few other select programs. We found a sweet spot and have transformed the campus.

BIZ: That’s a great answer, you’ve always been so detailed and explain things in a way we can understand it. I remember that all the way back from your business law classes!

LC: (laughs) You’re too kind.

BIZ: Safe to say your agenda items have gotten accomplished. Now, the new chancellor will be starting on solid footing and can grow from there. 

LC: That was one of my personal goals when I came back. I when I accepted the job, I said that my goal was to stabilize the university in three to five years.

BIZ: I was on the alumni association back then and sat in on some of the interviews. When I saw your name on the candidates list, I said, “That’s it. There we go, that’s who we need.” 

LC: It’s funny because I didn’t aspire to be chancellor. Some places have a sign with how many days there have been since an accident and in my office at UNC Wilmington, I had a sign of how many days in a row I had managed to stay out of the administration building. I wanted to be with the faculty and didn’t want those headaches of being a president or chancellor. 

BIZ: Getting back on track, are there any programs you take pride in during your time as chancellor?

LC: Our MBA, health administration, and education programs have all seen growth. We have new programs from Cyber Collaboratory and computer science to sports science and collaborating with LSU Health Science Center. When I started, I knew we needed to work on recruiting students transferring from Southern University of Shreveport (SUSLA) and Bossier Parish Community College. We set out to make partnerships and transfer agreements to make that happen. Our student success center was based upon the student success center at SUSLA. That has been very popular and a resource for those students coming int our university and is one of my proudest achievements.

BIZ: Sounds like your growth and expansion plans, since you came in, have been successful in a big way.

LC: Yes, but areas where I have not been so successful is when you compare face-to-face versus online students, we want more face-to-face students. We have far too many students in business, we want to spread that out. Another thing is we need more diversity. We were built on a cotton plantation and some in the black community have recollections of our location, so we need to do better with diversity and inclusion.

BIZ: On that note, are there any things you wish you had gotten accomplished that you didn’t or ran out of time to see accomplished?

LC: One item I would like to see is more community support. I use Northwestern State University as a good example, and NSU went through some hard times and there were real concerns for its viability but there was a sense of rallying around the university. No one in Natchitoches would have suggested merging that university with anyone else. I would hope the community would celebrate more of what LSUS is. 

BIZ: What are do you see as having the most growth potential?

LC: Aligning with healthcare is really important. Investments in technology and cybersecurity, this region needs our success in those areas. One area of potential is education center stimulating attraction of students to become teachers. That’s a challenge for us, the community, the state, and the nation. We’ve got to figure that one out but we’re well suited for that opportunity. I’d love to see the community and school districts come together with LSUS and find a way to work together to make that happen. 

BIZ: As we wrap up, I want to say that I appreciate your generosity with your time. In closing, what are you going to miss the most?

LC: The students. I love the feeling of walking around the campus. I love the collegial setting of a university where you can have an honest conversation and disagree in a civil way. Lastly, the team. It’s been awesome working with them.

I gave a speech to students in 2014 and I told them they could contact me with any problems. A student came up to me two weeks later and told me she was disappointed because she had sent me an email and I didn’t respond. I found out those emails went to student affairs first. Well guess what? That problem was with student affairs, and it wasn’t forwarded on to me. I had IT change that to where only one person reads emails that are supposed to come to the chancellor – and that’s the chancellor. I’ve always enjoyed trying to make a difference. When a student has a complaint, I want them to know that someone will find out what’s happening and work to solve it.

BIZ: Finally, what is your favorite memory that you’re going to leave with?

LC: I love graduation day. I love doing pictures with the students and hearing their stories. A couple graduations ago, a mother came up with a pic of her graduating during my days as the dean of school of business. Now her daughter was graduating, and she wanted a photo of all of us together. That was really cool. 

I want to say that in 2014, I had been at UNC Wilmington. I got called by three trustees with influence on the board reaching out to see if I would want to stay. I was asked three weeks ago by a businessperson visiting from Wilmington. We went to lunch and he asked if I had regrets over not staying there. I said, ‘No. I believe there’s more of a calling to come back and do more good here than if I would have stayed.”

[Ed.’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

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