Dr. William “Bill” F. Tate IV was named LSU’s new president Thursday by a unanimous vote of the school’s Board of Supervisors, becoming the first African American in history to lead a Southeastern Conference university.
Collis Temple Jr., a Board member who was LSU’s first African American basketball player in 1971, emotionally presented the motion to his fellow Board members to vote on Tate’s hiring.
Tate, 56, grew up in Chicago, but his grandfather is from Oxford, Miss., his grandmother is from the Mississippi Delta and half of his family is from Tennessee and Kentucky or as Tate called it “SEC country.”
“Quite frankly, I didn’t think this day would come,” Tate said at a press conference afterwards wearing an LSU tie.. “I had a conversation with a colleague a few years ago as the question `Would it be possible that actually an African American would be (a) president in the SEC?’ My colleague told me it would be possible.
“Y’all made it possible and so I’m really grateful. As I reflect historically in my own personal journey, this is a huge moment for me, individually just being a president, period, but it’s this part of history to me is very special to me.
“And, it also means that I have to absolutely be outstanding because they’re all going to hold me accountable. So, what I would like you to say in `x’ number of years because you asked me how long I’m going to be here is that not the guy was just an African American president but he did a dang gone good job and we’re glad that he came.”
Tate, who has been the executive vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of South Carolina since last July, was one of three finalists who were publicly interviewed for one hour each by the Board Thursday.
The other two finalists were University of Louisiana system president and CEO James Henderson and Dr. William Droegemeier, most recently the former director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Tate said he didn’t apply for the LSU presidential vacancy that occurred when F. King Alexander resigned in December 2019 to accept a similar position at Oregon State on July 1, 2020. Alexander resigned from OSU March 23 after being linked to the LSU Title IX scandal for not firing former Tigers’ football coach Les Miles for a string of Title IX accusations.
After being nominated for the LSU job and then being contacted by a search firm, Tate said he was content to stay at South Carolina. He said he saw a list of other candidates and thought LSU would be fine hiring anyone of them.
Until Tate started reading the horrific investigative newspaper reports of LSU’s Title IX continued failures to properly investigate years of domestic abuse and sexual violence allegations committed by football players.
“I looked at it and you know I’m kind of crazy like this,” Tate told the Board, “I said, `They actually need someone who’s not afraid, who understands the kinds of things you have to do to be a successful research university, but is willing to hop in the fire and help them get out of it and bring out the greatest of the institution.’
“And that’s kind of the way I think about life and I’m very comfortable with that, so decided to take a chance.”
Tate said he’s ready to take on LSU’s Title IX problems head-on.
“We have an opportunity to design and build a trauma-focused approach where if a victim comes forward we recognize they have been traumatized in some form or fashion,” Tate said. “And if we work with them in the context of that trauma, to make sure they are taken care of.
“Ultimately, there needs to be an adjudication process that is quick and aligned with the federal guidelines in terms of the time frame and having the capacity to do that. If a person is found guilty of that, then removing them from our campus as soon as possible.”
Tate was a finalist for the South Carolina’s president’s job a year ago in April that went to Dr. Robert L. Caslen, Jr. Last July, Caslen was thrilled to hire Tate as provost.
“Bill Tate is a game changer,” Caslen said when hired Tate. “He’s the ideal academic leader to inspire our faculty and students, and I’m excited about the vision and passion he brings to our administrative team.”
Everywhere Tate has worked, he has earned rave reviews.
He came to South Carolina from Washington University in St. Louis where he had been since 2002. He held numerous administrative posts before becoming dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, vice provost for graduate education and the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Sciences.
“Bill Tate is an extraordinary leader and scholar,” said Dr. Andrew D. Martin, Washington University’s chancellor. “He brought great vision and passion to the Graduate School, providing guidance and inspiration for our students and faculty.”
LSU Board member Lee Mallett was extremely pointed with Tate in the public interview about the pressures of being the school’s president and dealing with Louisiana politics to fight for funding.
“Every day’s a battle here,” Mallett said. “The legislature is across the street and it ain’t gonna be fun. This thing eats people up. It is a vicious thing to go through. Day in and day out, the battle will wear you down. And they are going to wear you down.”
Tate said his athletic background, particularly as a cross country runner at Northern Illinois University where he earned a bachelors degree, taught him to persevere.
“You never quit,” Tate said. “You’re in pain, you don’t quit. You don’t quit on your teammates. You don’t quit on the process. It’s how I’ve been trained. You fall down ,you get up and you keep going.”
Tate said he views a school’s athletic program as important as the academic side.
“I want to win national championships,” Tate said. “In the end, this is what you’re trying to get done. You want to have a student-athlete experience that when they are accomplished in the classroom and they should be graduating and getting their degrees and becoming great citizens adding value to this state or wherever they decide to reside afterwards.”
As the interview session was almost completed, Mallett told Tate he had his support.
“If I came across as being rude and direct. . .my apologies,” Tate said. “What I wanted to get across is I’m dead serious about getting ready to rock and roll.”
Tate’s educational degrees include Psychiatric Epidemiology (M.P.E.) (2011) from Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri Department of Psychiatry, Epidemiology and Prevention Group; Anna Julia Cooper Postdoctoral Fellow (1991-1992) with area of concentration Social Policy from University of Wisconsin-Madison; Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) school of Education graduate Center for Mathematics Education, (1991), area of concentration Mathematics Education, Minor(s): Mathematical Sciences and Human Development from University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland; Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) department of Mathematics school of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (1987) from University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, Texas; Bachelor of Science (B.S.), economics, Department of Economics, Minor: Mathematical Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (1982) from Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois.