DSU president celebrates inaugural year
By Aimee Robinette
Photography by Bill Powell
Bill LaForge has accomplished much during his first year as the eighth president of Delta State University. He had been asked to consider the position two other times, however, the timing wasn’t right.
Though LaForge is a Cleveland native and DSU alumnus, he was led to Washington, D.C. for a high-powered career in government, then to the private sector.
“I worked in Washington for 37 years, the first part in government,” he explains. “Most of that time was spent with Sen. Thad Cochran as his chief of staff in the 1980s, ’90s and early 2000s. I then went with a succession of law firms and government relations firms. I spent nine years as partner in the Washington office of a Texas law firm. I handled their interests before Congress—was their inside man.”
LaForge gained so much experience while working on Capital Hill he became an expert on all things dealing with Congress. Soon a publishing company came calling. They wanted him to write a book called, “Testifying Before Congress.”
“There was a deficiency in their literature for testifying to Congress,” he says. “[The book] was for training organizations in Washington. It notes how to deal with the Capitol, how to prepare to testify, how to rehearse. It deals with the technical side of testifying.”
The book is still the primary source for the publishing house.
LaForge was at the top of his game, but when he was approached a third time about the position of president of DSU, he decided to consider the offer.
“The first two times were not good for my family, my kids were going to college, I was just starting a new law firm, it was just not a good time,” he says. “When Dr. (John) Hilpert announced his retirement two years ago, I was approached again to consider the possibility.
“It made more sense that time. I had a wonderfully fulfilling career in Washington, but this was a unique opportunity. The more I thought about it, it made more sense. The skill sets you need are transferable. I agreed with that. Much of what I did in my career—without thinking about it—prepared me for today,” he says. “I was in Poland teaching at a law school at that point. I had some time to think. It was certainly a 90-degree career turn. Somehow, it became a calling.”
Being president would not be an easy undertaking. Though the title seems prestigious enough, it would come with a wide range of obstacles that were already in place.
“The first year I have worked on managing scarce resources, budget challenges, and an enrollment situation, “ he says. “We laid out some new recruiting strategies, and it appears it is paying off. However, it is way too early to cheer. We won’t know hard numbers until August, but the early indicators are that we are doing it right.”
LaForge also completed his leadership team within his first year. Ronnie Mayers was named athletic director, Steve McClellan, was named CFO, Charles McAdams was named provost and as of July 1, David Breaux will be the new dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
His personal life has also undergone a “wonderful change.” “Coming here has gotten me away from two gridlocks,” he says. “A government gridlock with problems, inefficiencies and inhospitable relationships. Secondly, a gridlock as far as the commute from where we lived to where I worked.
My commute now is a ‘horrible’ 47 seconds, I can see my office from my home. I like that.”
LaForge wants Delta State to be successful and is more than willing to do his part in that effort. He is not looking at his presidency as a way to spend his time until he retires.
“I will put myself on the line everyday,” he says.
LaForge has spent the last year going to high schools across the state and in Memphis, Tenn., to recruit students. He has tightened the reins on the budget, and continues to be the most visible president the university has seen in years.
“I like attending the student’s activities,” he says. “If it is important to them, then is should be important to me. I like being involved. I like being visible. I gain more knowledge by being out there, hearing from students their concerns, their thoughts. I do the same with my faculty. It’s the best way to learn.”
After all, he was a student and even ran around the campus as a boy when his father, Dr. William N. LaForge, was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and enjoyed a stellar 35-year career. The library LaForge walks by on a daily basis bears his father’s name.
“It’s a little bit surreal. You see it (the campus) so differently than when you are a kid. Whenever I get out of the car on campus or go for a jog, I see where I went inside to meet my dad,” he explains.
“It’s not like coming home, it is home.”