JACKSON — William LaForge, who has served as the president of Delta State University since 2013, will depart at the end of June. The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning board, which governs the state’s eight public universities, approved the leadership change at a meeting last week in Jackson.
But LaForge said he didn’t learn of the change until several days later. In an email message to the entire campus Tuesday, LaForge wrote that he didn’t learn of the move until Monday — just before the board published a news release announcing its decision.
Beginning July 1, Butch Caston will begin serving as interim president.
“The very basic explanation I was provided was that the IHL Board thinks a leadership change is warranted because the comparative state of the university from the time when I began my service in 2013 until now is not favorable — especially with respect to enrollment metrics and financial sustainability,” LaForge wrote.
Delta State’s student enrollment declined by just over 9 percent between 2020 and 2021. Between fall 2019 and fall 2021, enrollment declined by 27 percent — the most drastic change of any public university in the state. In 2019, 3,761 students enrolled. That fell to 2,727 students in 2021.
LaForge’s salary is $265,001. Of the total, $215,000 is provided with state funds and $50,001 is provided by the university’s foundation, according to an IHL spokesperson.
LaForge has a lifelong connection to Delta State as a professor’s child. He attended Delta State and was student body president.
“We wish him well as he looks forward to new challenges and opportunities,” IHL board president Tom Duff said in Monday’s news release announcing the leadership change.
LaForge wasn’t the only one caught some off guard by the IHL’s decision.
“I was shocked and surprised to see this happen,” Doug Pinkerton, a recently retired Delta State recreation director, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “No one I talked to saw this coming.”
Caston assumes the position after serving as the university’s interim vice president of student affairs and interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. He holds a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from Delta State and a doctorate from the University of Southern Mississippi.
Caston will be tasked with addressing several issues facing Delta State, including declining enrollment, fiscal challenges and infrastructure, Duff said. In his email message, LaForge wrote that Caston has his “full support and confidence.”
LaForge is a native of Cleveland, Mississippi, where Delta State is located. He had a 36-year career in Washington before his appointment to the Delta State presidency. On Capitol Hill, he rose to become chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi. LaForge’s government career included a stint as chief counsel of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture. He also worked in the private sector as an attorney and lobbyist.
LaForge and his wife, Nancy, plan to return to their home in Northern Virginia. “I am very disappointed in the decision, but I accept the outcome and am fully prepared to move on,” he wrote.
Information about the search for a permanent president will be released later, the IHL said in the news release.