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Dr. Ray P. Authement, who led the University of Louisiana at Lafayette as its president for three decades, died Sunday, April 5. He was 91.
Authement was president 34 years. When he retired in 2008, he was the longest-serving public university president in the United States.
In a statement, Dr. Joseph Savoie, current UL Lafayette president, praised his predecessor’s “visionary leadership.”
“Through dedication, determination and selflessness, he changed how the University saw itself and how others perceived it as well. He guided our growth from a strong regional University to one recognized nationally and globally for its research and scholarship,” Savoie said.
Dr. Jim Henderson, president of the University of Louisiana System, echoed Savoie’s sentiments.
“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.”
Dr. Kim Hunter Reed, Louisiana’s commissioner of higher education, said Authement “brought his sharp mind, vision for academic excellence and student dedication to the role he cherished,” president of UL Lafayette.
“As we mourn his passing, we at the Board of Regents celebrate an educator for the ages and reflect on his rich legacy,” Hunter Reed said in a statement.
Authement grew up in Boudreaux Canal, a coastal community near Cocodrie, Louisiana. He enrolled in 1947 at Southwestern Louisiana Institute, now UL Lafayette. He was the first member of his family to attend college, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1950.
Authement then completed master’s and doctoral degrees in mathematics from Louisiana State University, in 1952 and 1956, respectively. He taught at LSU and McNeese State University before returning to SLI as associate professor of mathematics in 1957.
Two years later, he was named professor. He continued to teach until 1966, when he was promoted to academic vice president. By then, SLI had become the University of Southwestern Louisiana. In 1970, Authement was named vice president.
He became acting president in 1973 when his predecessor, Dr. Clyde L. Rougeau, took a year’s leave of absence. Rougeau retired in 1974, and Authement became president.
During his tenure, the University earned national and global recognition in the fields of computer science, environmental and biological research, engineering, and Francophone studies. It also strengthened its efforts to preserve and examine Louisiana’s culture.
Despite its growing reputation, Authement ensured the University remained committed to Acadiana.
When the area oil industry collapsed in the early 1980s, the University’s budget was cut by $10 million. In spite of its own financial straits, the University, at Authement’s direction, led efforts to bolster the regional economy by creating research centers that helped existing companies improve their operations and fostered the growth of new businesses as well.
The University established 17 research centers during Authement’s tenure and opened University Research Park. The park’s tenants grew to include the National Wetlands Research Center, the Cecil J. Picard Center for Early Childhood Development, and the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise, or LITE, Center.
More than 30 buildings were constructed, and over 25 facilities were renovated or expanded from 1974 to 2008. These included the Hilliard University Art Museum; Moody, Abdalla, Fletcher and Oliver halls; Legacy Park, apartment-style student residences; and an indoor practice facility for Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns athletic teams.
Edith Garland Dupré Library was enlarged and renovated. The Cajundome opened in 1986 and was expanded to include the convention center in 2002.
During Authement’s administration, the University also:
- changed its name from USL to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette;
- implemented academic admission standards;
- became the first Doctoral II institution in Louisiana;
- competed in NCAA Division I, the highest level of collegiate athletics competition; and
- increased gifted assets to more than $150 million.
Following his retirement in 2008, Authement returned to the University and once again taught mathematics.
The University of Louisiana System recognized him as UL Lafayette president emeritus in 2009.
The University’s Ray P. Authement College of Sciences is named in his honor. Each year, the UL Lafayette Foundation presents outstanding educators the Dr. Ray P. Authement Excellence in Teaching Award, one of the highest honors the University bestows on faculty.
He is survived by his wife of 69 years, Barbara Braud Authement; daughter, Julie Authement Johnson (Chris); five grandchildren, Jacob and Benjamin Johnson, Philip Prouet (Emily), Lauren Newbill (Wes) and Michelle Prouet; and two great-grandchildren, Graham and Parker Prouet. He is also survived by his brothers, Don Authement (Suzanne) and Ronnie Authement (Jane); and his sisters, Norma Dill (Jerry, deceased) and Rosalie Tipton (John.)
He was preceded in death by his parents, Elios and Elphia Authement; his oldest sister, Nell Page; and a daughter Kathy Elizabeth Prouet.
Memorial contributions can be made to the UL Lafayette Foundation or to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Lafayette. Checks should be made payable to the UL Lafayette Foundation and mailed to P.O. Box 44290, Lafayette, LA 70504.
La Louisiane, the magazine of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, extensively chronicled Authement’s career in its Fall 2007 issue. Read a digital copy here.
(Graphic credit: University of Louisiana at Lafayette)