Thursday, June 20, 2024

Meet the new boss of Louisiana Tech

by BIZ Magazine

Jan. 1 marks a new chapter for Louisiana Tech University as Dr. Jim Henderson takes as the next president of Louisiana Tech University. Having most recently served as president and CEO of the University of Louisiana System for nearly seven years, Dr. Henderson previously served as president of Northwestern State University and Bossier Parish Community College.

During an October 2023 meeting, the UL System Board voted to suspend its Board Rule guiding presidential searches and name Dr. Henderson as the sole finalist for Louisiana Tech’s presidency. In September, Dr. Les Guice announced his intention to retire from Louisiana Tech at the end of the year.

BIZ. Magazine sat down with the new president to get a sense of why the Shreveport native came back to the area, back to a daily role in higher education institutions, and what his priorities are heading into the new year. 

Q: Why take what many would consider, on the surface, a step back from system president to university president?

A: When I accepted the System President role, Louisiana higher education was in crisis mode in terms of both resources and leadership at the state level. We needed to set the conditions for our colleges and universities to deliver on their respective missions, and we have done just that. After seven years as System President, it is the right time for me to return to the work I love. The energy found in working directly with students, faculty, and staff is irreplaceable. I have enjoyed serving the System but, for me, the real joy in higher education is only found at the institution.

Q: What about Tech made it an attractive situation for you?

A: The outsider recognizes Louisiana Tech as an exceptional institution. The insider fully understands the history of excellence and the depth of institutional loyalty situated in the piney woods. I consider myself an insider, not just because of my System role but because of my close familial ties to the institution. My Dad played football for Joe Aillet, my mom had two degrees from Tech, and my son, Alexander, is a current sophomore. The importance of Louisiana Tech to Ruston, the I-20 corridor, and the State of Louisiana cannot be overstated. Its potential for global impact is immense.

Q: How did your time change your view on administration, or how did it change your view on the Louisiana System?

A: The time I served as System president was one filled with tumult—politically, globally, and socially. The shared experience of the pandemic, natural disasters, and social unrest didn’t change my view but elevated my awareness of the fragility of many of the institutions we hold dear. At the System we designed an environment that allowed our member institutions to benefit from the collective power of a system while continuing to advance through their unique characteristics and offerings. Being a leading part of that collective power is to Louisiana Tech’s benefit.

Q: You’re obviously very familiar with the area Tech calls home. Are you looking forward to returning to northwest Louisiana, and what do you hope to accomplish you didn’t while at BPCC and NSU?

A: Northwest Louisiana is home for me, and Tonia and I very much look forward to returning. During our first eight-year residency in the region, we developed deep, lasting friendships and institutional relationships. We helped lead BPCC and NSU to new heights, leaving both poised for continued growth and advancement. I will approach this leadership role similarly by building a culture conducive to the success of the institution. Louisiana Tech is ready for significant growth and on the cusp of even greater impact on the students and communities it serves. I look forward to building on the foundation so ably laid by President Guice.

Q: What is going to be your focus when you take over in early 2024?

A: Growth. Louisiana Tech offers programs that are relevant not only to work in today’s economy but the economies of the decades to come. While other institutions throughout the country are grappling with enrollment decline, we have the institutional features to attract more students prepared for an exemplar educational experience. To thrive in the future economy our citizens must be equipped with the skills that technology is incapable of replacing. What Louisiana Tech is offering to students both academically and experientially is unmatched and we have to effectively communicate that across the region.

Q: Thinking about Tech and the past year, I think of two big additions in LTRI and Tech Point II. What are your plans to utilize the new opportunities created by these facilities?

A: LTRI and Tech Point II represent the spirit of innovation that has been guiding Louisiana Tech for decades. The opportunities created, mostly centered on research and public-private partnership, will only expand innovation and better the opportunities for our students. Anytime industry wants to be housed on a college campus, it is a testament to the quality of the faculty. Those same faculty develop students that will serve the companies we attract to the region before and after graduation. Both are positioned to be game changers for NWLA.

— David Specht, BIZ. Magazine

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