The Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning voted recently to extend the contract of Delta State University President William N. LaForge following a careful review of the university under his leadership.
According to board minutes, members granted the extensions in a closed meeting on Feb. 17 to Jackson State University’s Carolyn Meyers, LaForge, and the University of Southern Mississippi’s Rodney Bennett.
“President LaForge is the perfect example of the right person at the right time for the university,” said Trustee Aubrey Patterson, president of the Board of Trustees. “He grew up in the Delta, graduated from Delta State and understands the challenges the university and region face. He also understands how the university has been and continues to serve as a catalyst for change. One example of this is the “Winning the Race Conference” he established to bring together diverse communities and promote a broad discourse on race relations.” On behalf of Delta State, President LaForge accepted the 2014 Civil Rights and Social Justice Award during the fourth National Civil Rights Conference.
President LaForge was named the eighth president of Delta State University on February 28, 2013 and began serving in the role in April 2013. He was formally sworn in on November 1, 2013.
“President LaForge has made a tremendous amount of progress at Delta State in a short period of time,” said Rob Armour, President of the National Alumni Association. “He understood what the challenges were when he accepted the presidency, and he has tackled the issues with a hands-on, grass roots approach. I know I speak for the alumni of this institution when I say we hope he makes Delta State his home for quite some time.”
During his tenure, President LaForge has focused on telling the Delta State story, especially to the young people in the Delta and throughout the state, and helping all Delta State students succeed. His initiatives have included:
» Recruiting visits to more than 75 high schools and several community colleges, resulting in the university’s first enrollment increase in eight years.
» Recruitment initiatives for international students, resulting in the establishment of exchange agreements with universities in Poland, Russia, and Bulgaria.
» Placing greater focus on student retention through the Student Success Center and expansion of the First Year Seminar, with positive results already demonstrated.
“In his relatively short tenure as President of Delta State, President LaForge has clearly inspired the faculty, the students, and the community to join together in achieving a shared vision for the success of Delta State,” said Trustee Alan Perry, vice president of the Board of Trustees. “Those efforts have resulted in remarkably positive results as shown by many objective indications of success, including increased enrollment and increased giving to the Foundation.”
President LaForge has been actively engaged in development efforts. The DSU Foundation raised more money over the last two fiscal years than any two years combined in the history of the Foundation and the university received the largest gift in its history with a $3.1 million gift from the late Robert E. Smith.
“The fiscal year ending June 30, 2014 resulted in a total of $8.2 million in gifts and pledges,” said Anne Wynn Weissinger, Past President of the Foundation Board. “The $8.2 million represents our largest total in the 50 year history of the Foundation and nearly doubled our previous record set in 2004. The Delta State University Foundation Board thanks President LaForge for his commitment to supporting the fund raising goals of the Foundation. He has been a significant reason for the record setting year.”
In addition to reaching out to alumni and supporters, President LaForge has expanded personal outreach to students with a number of events, including meeting with student organizations; holding residence hall meetings; hosting student forums; meeting with Greek organizations; and, establishing the Council of Student Presidents and a Presidential Leadership Class.
“In the short time that he has been here, President LaForge has made a lot of decisions that have benefited this university,” said Mikel Sykes, President of the DSU Student Government Association. “He has brought a sense of pride to the university and the boost in morale is evident throughout the student body. He is a president who puts students first and he always makes himself available to any student who reaches out to him.”
President LaForge created the “Delta State University Colloquia: Distinguished Lecture Series” program, which is an ongoing series of top-flight lectures and addresses featuring marquee speakers from a wide variety of backgrounds. This Lecture Series has brought outstanding professionals to the Delta State campus from across the state and the U.S.—from a former governor, to the head of a major nursing organization, to a U.S. Senator, to the former Comptroller General of the United States, to a Mississippi Supreme Court Justice. He also established the International Delta Blues Project which includes the development of a blues study curriculum, creation of a Blues Leadership Business Incubator, and an International Conference on the Blues.
“I am very appreciative to the IHL Board for the trust and confidence they have placed in me, and for the support they have provided me in my first two years on the job,” said LaForge. “It is a privilege for me to have the opportunity to work with Delta State’s superb leadership team and campus constituencies to advance the interests of my alma mater. I look forward to continuing my service for our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and supporters.”
President LaForge, who grew up in Cleveland, has forged partnerships in the region and beyond to strengthen both the university and the state. He hosted the university’s first Mayors Summit to engage local leaders in university activities, and to discover new and meaningful ways that Delta State can partner with regional municipalities. He also created the Dedicated Statesmen Association to keep retirees, alumni, and friends of Delta State involved, encouraged, and informed on university activities and endeavors.
“As a Delta State University alumna, it is heartening to see the progress and excitement on the campus,” said Trustee Karen Cummins, a member of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning. “As the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi is built, it is one illustration that President LaForge has positioned Delta State to continue to be a vibrant part of the fabric of the Delta, both reflecting its history and culture, while inspiring change and progress for the future.”
The partnership with the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, which is being built on the university’s campus in Cleveland, will be a terrific complement to Delta State’s focus on music and culture — through its music department, Delta Music Institute Entertainment Industries program, Delta Blues project, and Delta Center for Culture and Learning.
“I am very pleased to hear that President LaForge’s contract has been extended,” said David Hebert, President of DSU Faculty Senate. “He fulfills the adage ‘right man at the right time.’ He has hired a wonderful leadership team, articulated a clear goal for the university, and has repeatedly demonstrated steadfast determination in seeing that we achieve the goal in an open and transparent fashion, all of which have been so desperately needed.”
President LaForge is also committed to keeping college affordable for all students, supporting the decision to remove the non-resident surcharge on tuition. He has also stabilized and improved the university’s financial position by effectuating a significant reduction in fixed expenses.
“Delta State is very fortunate to have the leadership of President LaForge,” said Marilyn Read, President of the DSU Staff Council. “His vision of true shared governance has made a positive impact on the Delta State faculty, staff and students. President LaForge brings a renewed level of excitement to the campus and the Cleveland community.”
Before returning to his hometown of Cleveland, Mississippi, Mr. LaForge enjoyed a 36-year career, in both the public and private sectors in Washington, DC, that spanned the fields of government, law, business, higher education, and public policy.
In the private sector, he was an attorney, registered lobbyist, and principal of LaForge Government Relations, and three different law or public policy firms previously, where he specialized in federal government relations, and represented businesses and other organizations with public policy interests before the United States Congress and federal executive branch agencies
On Capitol Hill, Mr. LaForge served as senior legislative counsel to Republican and Democratic lawmakers in both houses of Congress. He was chief counsel of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, and culminated his government career as Chief Legislative Counsel and Chief of Staff to United States Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi. Previously, he served as Congressional Liaison for the Peace Corps and as a legislative assistant to Mississippi Congressman David Bowen.
Mr. LaForge attended the public schools in Cleveland and graduated with honors from Delta State University. He earned his law degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law, received an LL.M. in international law from Georgetown University, and studied international law at Cambridge University. He received fellowships to study government and public policy in the European Union and at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and he is the recipient of an honorary doctorate of laws from the Stetson University College of Law.
As a DSU alumnus, Mr. LaForge has served as national president of the Delta State University Alumni Association and a trustee of the Delta State University Foundation. He was selected Delta State’s Alumnus of the Year in 1992, and a charter member of the Delta State University Alumni Hall of Fame in 2007.
“President LaForge’s leadership expands beyond the campus and extends throughout the Delta,” said Dr. Jim Borsig, Commissioner-Elect. “He hosted the university’s first Mayors Summit to engage local leaders in university activities and to discover new and meaningful ways that Delta State can partner with regional municipalities. Nurturing this kind of town-gown relationship is critical for the success of both the university and the region.”