A room filled with 100 of Acadiana’s business leaders gathered to hear from Dr. Joseph Savoie, President of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. As he shared his Lessons from the Corner Office, it was clear – some of life’s best teachers are history, a keen sense of observation, and perseverance. His experiences have provided him with the wisdom he passed on to attendees over breakfast. A crucial piece of advice: “read.”
Lesson One: “Read, analyze, observe others who do what you want to do, try to become an expert.”
His genre preference, “history.” He’s currently enjoying Fifty Years of 60 Minutes: The Inside Story of Television’s Most Influential News Broadcast, a Christmas gift, and Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Issacson. Knowing this, it comes as no surprise that his original career goal was to become a high school teacher. Early opportunities, however, shifted his focus to higher education. He filled a higher education position under Governor Foster for what was supposed to be six months that turned into twelve years. It was a pivotal moment in defining his future career.
Lesson Two: “Manage according to a plan and prepare to take detours.”
Savoie and the University
Dr. Savoie has celebrated ten years in his current role of University President. “Most university presidents last about four years,” he shared. Armed with his personal core values are faith, family, friends, and a commitment to the greater good, he’s made it through the ten years, which have inevitably included highs and lows. A notable challenge – the tumultuous funding of higher education. “The university is responsible for many things, but cannot control it all – students, parents, legislators all make those decisions for the university sometimes,” he said. Ever the observant student of history, his long tenure has given him the vantage point to see that what happens at the Capitol is “cyclical.” Despite what happens in the legislature, Savoie strives to push the university forward.
Lesson Three: “Make sure you’re always making progress; if you’re not moving forward you’re moving backward.”
Beyond legislative considerations, UL Lafayette has many big decisions to tackle on a regular basis. “One person cannot manage an organization of the University’s size alone. It takes everyone to make sure we know what the goal is and continue making steady progress towards that goal.” Using a strategic roadmap, Savoie sees his role as one of encouragement and steady leadership.
Lesson Four: “As a manager, your job is not to tell people what to do, it’s to help them get done what they want to do.”
When asked to share what he views as a big success he said, “It’s not about a singular event. I’m refreshed regularly when I see student success and graduation.” This is also what keeps him motivated and excited in his role. When asked about failure, Savoie answered he gets knocked down regularly, and has “callouses on his scars,” but failure doesn’t stop him from pursuing opportunities.
Lesson Five: Failure isn’t the end of the road, it’s the beginning of a new route to success.
View from A Campus Corner Office
There is no such thing as a typical day for the big man on campus, but each day is guided by a belief that it’s his responsibility to leave everything in a better state and that it’s the university’s responsibility to be involved in the betterment of the community. “University development and community development are tied,” he points out saying that higher levels of educational attainment translate to higher quality of life in an area. This is one reason the university is committed to initiatives like One Acadiana, responds to the community’s needs, and remains focused on achieving long-term goals of increasing educational attainment in Acadiana.
Lesson Six: “It’s important to remember if you work for the public, the position doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to the greater good.”
With the university’s current goal for student enrollment at 20,000 (a little over 19,000 enrolled in Fall 2017), remaining focused on this target and on building relationships along the way is key from Savoie’s point of view. His advice to young leaders aiming for long-term success is to think broadly and not get distracted by short-term ideas.
Lesson Seven: If you get involved it will make you more successful. It’s about developing relationships that will help in the long-term.
In a noteworthy stride in student development on campus, the first graduates of the UL LIFE (Learning is For Everyone) program were honored during the 2018 spring commencement. A passion point for Savoie, the program helps young adults with disabilities become thriving members of society through a focus on academic growth, career development, and community involvement.
A Culture of Leadership Development
Savoie says the university’s strength is the campus culture; it’s one that is “inviting, warm, genuine, authentic and permeates the city and Acadiana” and it’s something he’s committed to preserving. “We don’t want to lose that.”
Lesson Eight: There is a strong tie between higher education attainment and the quality of life in a city.
Savoie sees the relationship between city and campus as crucial, with the university supporting the community and vice versa. The intertwining of the town’s culture and the university’s culture is not by accident. “We have really strong town and gown relations,” he shared, “and I meet regularly with Lafayette Mayor-President Joel Robideaux, as I did with his predecessor.”
Lesson Nine: Know more and understand more so you can do more. You don’t know what you think you know.
UL Lafayette continues to respond to area businesses’ workforce needs. Savoie shared, “We are constantly evaluating to make sure we have programs that meet demands; we have increased the number of degrees by forty percent in the last eight years.” Simultaneously, UL Lafayette has been strengthening relationships with local community colleges to put in place transfer agreements.
The university supports the community the community supports the university, and Savoie is proud to see the community give back to the university. He’s proud of organizations like UL Foundation, Ragin’ Cajuns Foundation, Alumni Association which are generating support and have been tremendous in attracting professors and students to the region.
Lesson Ten: UL Lafayette cultivates leaders by supporting them, inspiring them to be creative, providing opportunities to progress, and encouraging them to join Leadership Lafayette and Leadership Louisiana.
As the university continues to make steady progress in several areas, Savoie’s hopes for the future extend beyond the classroom walls. He hopes for a vibrant community that includes a return of the oil & gas industry and solid graduates who become impactful business leaders who preserve Acadiana’s unique culture. Aided by history’s lessons, Dr. Savoie is committed to making those aspirations become reality.