Former University of Louisiana at Lafayette president Ray P. Authement, Ph.D., died on Sunday, April 5 at 91 years of age. He was UL Lafayette’s fifth president, and, at the time of his retirement, Authement was the longest-serving university president in the country.
“Dr. Ray P. Authement was president of this University for 34 years, yet longevity alone is an insufficient measure by which to assess the transformational nature of his tenure,” University President Joseph Savoie, Ph.D., said in a print statement to The Vermilion.
“Our University’s achievements today — and its importance to Louisiana’s future — are rooted in the foundation he built. UL Lafayette stands as a monument to his visionary leadership,” Savoie said.
In the fall of 2007, after Authement announced his retirement, Kathleen Thames, associate director of publications at UL Lafayette, and the rest of the “La Louisiane” staff decided to devote the entire semester’s issue to his presidency and its long list of achievements.
It was under Authement that the university changed its name from the University of Southwestern Louisiana to today’s UL Lafayette, a change that, as described in the Fall 2007 “La Louisiane” issue, improved university pride, perceived value, recruitment and prestige.
But Authement saw more than just a name change take place.
During Authement’s time as president, the university gained at least 30 buildings and renovated at least 25 more, including the Moody, Abdalla, Fletcher and Oliver halls and the Hilliard University Art Museum.
The Cajundome — as well as the convention center next door — was built during this time and later renovated towards the end of his presidency. The Edith Garland Dupré library gained about 88,000 square feet in a $14 million renovation back in 2000.
Research buildings such as the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise (or, the LITE Center) and those within the University Research Park also came to be at this time.
President of the University of Louisiana System Jim Henderson, Ph.D., said in a print statement to The Vermilion what kind of effect he had on the countless students attending the university during his presidency.
“As the longest serving public university president in the United States, Dr. Authement laid the foundation for the extraordinary advancement of UL Lafayette into a national model and a source of pride for Louisiana. Countless students and multiple generations were blessed by his leadership,” Henderson said.
Authement served as a living example of good work ethic and quality leadership, as “La Louisiane” describes. He drove the university to success in any number of fields — becoming debt-free in 1993, raising the pay for faculty members every year for 15 years, directing as much money as possible into its growing computer science department back in 1974 — all carefully over the span of decades.
Julie Simon-Dronet, director of public relations and news services for almost half of Authement’s presidency, told “La Louisiane” in 2007:
“His vision is truly remarkable. Is it guesswork? No. He is a gatherer of information and has a methodical mind that, I believe, maps out game plans. He’s so driven by passion for moving this institution forward that he stays the course until it’s done.”
And Authement’s actions showed his dedication to the students. One graduate student told “La Louisiane” about his regular visits, almost weekly, visits to the student just to see how his research was going.
He also held weekly standing meetings with UL Lafayette’s Student Government Association, and made a habit of informally greeting new students, handing out free doughnuts and bottled water on the first day of school for years on the corner of Rex Street and St. Mary Boulevard.
Opening the fall 2007 “La Louisiane” issue, Thames writes about Authement’s regular habit of sending her other university magazines with sticky notes on what they could learn from them. After dozens of notes, she realized he studied everything she sent him and just what that little interaction showed about his work ethic.
“(The notes) are consistent, direct and efficient,” Thames wrote. “They tell me that he has done his homework, that it’s important to know what other universities are doing. Their subtler message is: if something is important, find the time to pay attention to it and share it with others.”
She continued, adding, “a few years ago, someone asked Doc what advice he would offer students. ‘When faced with a tough decision, do what you know in your heart is right. That’s not always easy but you will look back on your life without regrets,’ he replied.”
The University’s Ray P. Authement College of Sciences is named in the former president’s honor. The university also presents the Dr. Ray P. Authement Excellence in Teaching Award to faculty every year; it is one of the university’s highest honors.
Authement is survived by his wife, daughter, five grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, two brothers and two sisters. In a statement to The Vermilion, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette said the family “would like to express sincere appreciation to the staff of Bridgeway Hospice as well as his amazing team of caregivers.”
The university also said memorial contributions can be made to the UL Lafayette Foundation or to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Lafayette.