Leaving the house at around 4:30 a.m. every morning to make the drive to Baton Rouge, Former NSU President Dr. Jim Henderson has logged 6,500 miles on his Mazda since Jan. 1. Henderson now serves as the President for the University of Louisiana System and is in charge of overseeing the nine Louisiana universities in the system.
Henderson said the most important part of his new job is advocating for higher education. On Jan. 25, Henderson met with two legislators to discuss the importance of reinvesting in higher education.
“We’re the lowest funded state on a per student basis in the entire Southern region and 49th out of 50 in the country,” Henderson said. “It’s hard to come up with a short-term answer, but you start the conversation because we know that a college education is the pathway to all things good in life.”
Even though he is away from NSU, Henderson’s goals are still being implemented because of a strategic plan he helped draft when he rst arrived. This plan helps fortify the university in key areas such as student experience, academic excellence, community enrichment, athletic prominence and market responsiveness.
“I get a lot of energy from dealing with complex issues, and there is no shortage of complex issues at the state level in higher education,” Henderson said. “I really enjoy digging into that and nding out what are the root causes of some of the chronic challenges that we face in Louisiana, especially in higher education.”
Henderson is currently emphasizing that higher education needs to be accessible for students who can’t afford the cost.
“There is this whole group of students where higher education is just not practical [for them],” Henderson said. “Whether they are parents, workers or just have to support themselves, we have got to nd a way to expand our offerings to that population.”
Henderson plays a key role in selecting the next NSU President since he is the head of all selection committees for the entire UL System. This committee includes key community members, the NSU Faculty Senate President, the SGA President, the Foundation Board President, the Alumni Association President and a community representative.
“The committee will have its first meeting towards the end of February where they will nalize the timeline for the search,” Henderson said. “The goal is to have the board vote on the next candidate by the first week of May.”
Between now and May, there will be a listening session for the community, a vetting process for the applicants and an opportunity for the applicants to meet faculty, students and community stakeholders before the committee makes its final selection.
Even though he is away from the university, Henderson said that he misses being able to interact with the students.
“I miss walking across the street from my of ce into the Creative and Performing Arts complex and talking to theatre students, listening to the trombones rehearse and seeing what the Spirit of Northwestern is up too,” Henderson said. “I miss walking into the Student Union and taking sel es with students. You cannot replace that connection at a system level. You ll that void by thinking about how the work we are doing in Baton Rouge is going to improve the lives of those students.”