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You're Not in Kansas, I Mean D.C., Anymore

 

 

Sean O'Keefe became LSU's seventh chancellor on Feb. 21, 2005.

After living all over the United States as a child, spending years in the fast lane in Washington, D.C., and overseeing explorations into space, LSU Chancellor Sean O'Keefe finds the lifestyle and Southern hospitality of Louisiana more than appealing.

"I'm really glad to be here in Louisiana," O'Keefe said, settling back into a chair in his office. "It's a friendlier, more hospitable place to live than most other places I've been, especially Washington, D.C. – that's a completely different lifestyle and I don't miss it."

O'Keefe, who began his term as LSU's seventh chancellor on Feb. 21, 2005, had been a resident of the nation's capital for many years before coming to LSU. He was appointed NASA Administrator in December 2001 by President George W. Bush and previously served in several other capacities in the federal government, including Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Secretary of the Navy, and Comptroller and Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Defense.

Between public service stints, he was part of the higher education community for a number of years, serving on the faculty of Syracuse University and Pennsylvania State University. He was also the Director of National Security Studies, a partnership between Syracuse University and Johns Hopkins University for the delivery of executive education programs to senior military and civilian officials, and was a visiting scholar and lecturer at several different institutions, including two of England's best, the University of Cambridge and Oxford University.

But the friendliness of the people is not the only thing Louisiana has got going for it, O'Keefe said. There is also the food. "The cuisine in Baton Rouge is world-class," he said. "There is not a bad restaurant in town. The only drawback is, if I'm going to eat like this, I've got to either get a good tailor or adopt an exercise regimen!"

Homeward Bound

Chancellor O'Keefe addressed members of LSU's May 2005 graduating class in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.

As a child, O'Keefe moved around a lot. His father was a career naval officer, and the O'Keefe family lived in such states as California, Connecticut, and Hawaii, to name a few. But for young Sean, Louisiana was always "home." The son of parents raised in the "Irish Channel" in New Orleans, O'Keefe spent countless childhood holidays and vacations in the Crescent City visiting his extended family. He considers his move to Baton Rouge a homecoming, and he has already developed a penchant for the state's capital city.

"I like the energy in Baton Rouge," he said. "The atmosphere here is possibility-oriented. There is an effort to move the city forward that is very positive and will, I believe, also help move LSU forward."

One of the primary ways LSU is moving forward is through its national Flagship Agenda, the plan to make LSU one of the nation's top research universities by 2010. The agenda has been embraced by O'Keefe, and he likes the progress he has seen so far.

"There is strong support for the Flagship Agenda among the faculty, staff, students, and the broader university community," O'Keefe said. "There is broad interest in advancing the agenda. There have been visible changes at LSU in the past few years, and those changes are the consequence of that commitment."

As proof that the Flagship Agenda is working, O'Keefe points to such accomplishments as ever-improving ACT scores, grades, and retention rates for each new freshman class; a steadily improving graduation rate for the university; the hiring of more than 90 new tenure-track faculty; LSU students being named Goldwater and Truman Scholars; and impressive faculty awards, such as the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring presented recently by President George W. Bush to LSU Chemistry Professor Steven Watkins.

Things Have Changed at Home

Upon his arrival at LSU, Chancellor O'Keefe addressed faculty and staff at the Cox Communications Academic Center for Student Athletes. During his first several months at LSU, O'Keefe spent a great deal of time talking with students and employees, learning all he could about the university.

O'Keefe said that when he was attending Loyola University in New Orleans during the 1970s, many of his friends were attending LSU. At that time, LSU had open admissions, so the university accepted everyone who applied, then began weeding out those who were not prepared for college. "I had friends at LSU back then who said the professors would literally tell them to look around, because many of those students wouldn't be there next semester. It was the old ‘paper chase' principle – the goal was to survive."

Upon his return to LSU in 2005, O'Keefe said he found a completely different atmosphere at the university. "Now, we are admitting the best and brightest students and finding ways to help them learn and study so that they achieve the goal of getting a degree," O'Keefe said. "We want to help them graduate and realize their potential." It is these kinds of changes, he said, that show just how far LSU has come in recent years.

At the root of the Flagship Agenda, O'Keefe said, is the university's most important asset – its people: the students, the faculty, and the staff.

"LSU is a student-centered research university, and our primary obligation is to provide a quality education for all of our students," O'Keefe said. "Along with learning their subject matter, we want our students to develop applied life skills, to contribute to their communities, and to make this state an even better place to live."

O'Keefe has held several "Chats with the Chancellor" around campus, during which students can ask him questions and address LSU issues.  O'Keefe said the students provide him with important "consumer feedback."

To help foster this student-friendly environment, O'Keefe has already held several "Chats with the Chancellor" on campus. At these events, students are invited to meet informally with the chancellor to discuss any issues that are on their minds. O'Keefe calls it "consumer feedback," and said he has learned a lot about students and their concerns from these chats. He also periodically attends meetings of different student organizations to hear their ideas and opinions about the university, and to get a feel for what their organizations are all about.

O'Keefe also said that LSU's faculty and staff are essential to the success of the Flagship Agenda. He said he has been very impressed with the university's faculty, their award-winning research, and with how much they care about the university and its students. And, he said, the performance and professionalism of the staff is extraordinary, as that group is essential to making the university operate smoothly.

O'Keefe said that achieving the goals of the Flagship Agenda will enable LSU to reach other, higher goals, such as moving up in U.S. News & World Report's rankings, increasing the university's endowment, and obtaining the nation's best faculty and students.

Home Sweet Home

Sean O'Keefe and his wife, Laura, along with their three children, occupy the official Chancellor's residence on East Lakeshore Drive.

Although O'Keefe and his family – wife Laura, daughter Lindsey, and sons Jonathan and Kevin – now call the LSU Chancellor's residence "home," O'Keefe spends much of his time in his office at LSU, in Thomas Boyd Hall. There, reminders of O'Keefe's long and varied career path adorn the walls: academic hoods and honorary degrees, photos with President Bush, and an empty bottle of champagne that was shared by NASA officials when the Mars rover successfully landed on the Red Planet. O'Keefe is on a first-name basis with many of the nation's top astronauts and counts Vice President Dick Cheney among his mentors and friends. And now, he sits in an oak-tree shaded office at LSU, overseeing a university with an enrollment of more than 31,000 students and 5,000 faculty and staff, planning for the future of Louisiana's flagship institution. His career may have taken him down a number of different paths, but it seems the road has finally led him home.  

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Contact Kristine Calongne | LSU University Relations
Highlights Team
Fall 2005

Related Links

Chancellor's Web site
Flagship Agenda
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