John Nicklow chosen as UNO's next president

John Nicklow
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The University of Louisiana System on Wednesday selected current UNO provost John Nicklow as the next president of the University of New Orleans, choosing him over Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin.

Nicklow was one of two finalists selected from among five candidates who interviewed for the job. The other was New Orleans Deputy Mayor and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Kopplin.

Nicklow is a veteran educator who arrived at UNO in July to serve as its provost. He formerly served as provost at Southern Illinois University.

Nicklow, the provost and vice president of academic affairs, had the support of the UNO student body president, which endorsed him.  Kopplin had support from local business leaders, some of whom – including leaders from GNO, Inc. - spoke at Wednesday’s meeting.

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According to The Advocate, 10 members of the board voted for Nicklow and 6 voted for Kopplin.

With Wednesday’s vote Nicklow becomes the eighth president (the position formerly called chancellor) of UNO. The president's position was left vacant after former President Peter Fos retired earlier this year.

“My bid for the presidency is based on the fact that we are accomplishing great things despite a lot of disruption,” Nicklow said in his board interview. “I want the opportunity to do what I can to move UNO forward and if I didn’t think I could make an impact, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. I want to create a healthy, thriving university.”

Nicklow has only been at UNO since July but according to the UL system, when surveyed about the presidential candidates, almost 80 percent of faculty supported his appointment.

“I think the Board made a wise decision as Dr. John Nicklow is well qualified,” UL System Interim President and Search Committee Chair Dan Reneau said. “We will work with him in the transition and continue to support his efforts to help UNO excel in the future.” 

Nicklow earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in civil engineering from Bucknell University and a doctorate in civil engineering from Arizona State University. He began his career as an environmental engineering officer with the U.S. Public Health Service and was responsible for design and construction of water supply and waste disposal facilities for American Indian communities.

At UNO, Nicklow will inherit a university that has struggled to retain students and faced daunting financial cuts. According to The New Orleans Advocate, UNO's state funding has dwindled from $74 million in 2008-09 to $33 million in 2014-15. The overall budget, meanwhile, has been slashed by about 20 percent in that time to $102 million. Enrollment has dipped from a pre-Katrina figure of 17,142 to 8,423 last fall. That is the smallest enrollment since 1967, according to The Advocate.

In his application for the UNO post, Nicklow said that during his time at the university he has worked to "support a larger, more diversified enrollment portfolio and growth in research.

"The last few months have confirmed my initial impressions of the campus: a tremendous number of opportunities lay before us, and the institution can have a vibrant future with strategic leadership," he wrote in his cover letter.

Nicklow noted that his former university, Southern Illinois University, also had a lack of state funding, something he said would make him the ideal leader at UNO.

"I am keenly aware of the ever increasing importance of tuition revenue and fundraising to support the academic enterprise," he wrote. "Those willing to aggressively innovate to attract and retain students and community partners will outpace their peers because of this reality."

Kopplin, who was also founding director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, in his cover letter touted his work in rebuilding the city physically and financially after Hurricane Katrina.

"We've balanced five budgets in a row, improved our fund balance from negative $20 million to positive $60 million … and are now investing new revenues on things that move the city forward," he wrote.

Kopplin said he believes the opportunities for UNO, with a reputation as a sleepy commuter school, "are limited only by our own imaginations.

"UNO can be to New Orleans what NYU has become to New York City – a university that capitalized on its brand identity as part of a resurgent city and used it to aggressively attract students  and scholars from around the region and across the globe and massively grow her research, graduate programs, fundraising and impact," he wrote.

Nicklow previously held the position of provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Southern Illinois University, as well as earlier appointments as assistant provost for enrollment management, associate dean of engineering and professor of civil engineering. 

Nicklow has been widely recognized at the university level, by the American Society of Civil Engineers, and by industry for his teaching and research. His research interests are focused on STEM education and on environmental and water resources systems optimization. He has published more than 75 articles and is the author of four books.