Jay Gogue’s first order of business as Auburn University’s interim president was finding a watch.
“When you’re not going to meetings all the time, you don’t need a watch, you just sort of know what day it is, so that was a little different,” he said with a chuckle.
After serving as Auburn University president from 2007-2017, Gogue retired with his wife, Susie, to Auburn. But when his successor, Steven Leath, abruptly resigned less than two years on the job, Gogue’s two-time alma mater came knocking. And he answered.
“When somebody like Auburn asks if you would consider coming back for a few months or whatever it is while they go through the search, I said, ‘Sure, I’d be delighted to do it,’” Gogue said, reflecting on many memorable years on The Plains.
With the full Board of Trustees’ approval on Monday, Gogue was named Auburn University’s president while a national search for a permanent successor is conducted.
Gogue has held multiple positions at different universities in his career, including administrative roles at Clemson University and Utah State University and as president at New Mexico State University and the University of Houston.
Earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Auburn, Gogue always knew it was a special place, but what stood out to him in anticipation of serving as Auburn’s president in 2007 was how much graduates appreciated their time at the Loveliest Village on The Plains.
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Each university he had been at surveys their students five years after graduating. They ask about impactful classes and professors. The last question of the survey asks whether the graduate would come back to their alma mater. A respectable number hovers around 80 percent, but Auburn’s was 96 percent.
Amazed, Gogue took the number to his wife, an Auburn alumna, and asked if she could believe it. She had one piece of advice.
“Try to not mess that up.”
He said that was his mission throughout his tenure. He wanted to stay out of the way and let the great work of administrators, professors and students lead the University.
Ironically, that’s exactly what Gogue’s mission will be as he returns. He’s looking to instill stability as the University transitions to its next president.
“As an interim guy, you’re not going to go out and create a new strategic plan, you’re not going to have a whole bunch of new initiatives,” he said. “You’re going to try to get some things done that were already on the table that people were working through and try to give everybody a feel that you’re approachable, you can get to him, you can see him, there are issues that we want to hear about and try to work on them.”
In his first day on the job, Gogue’s long agenda included meetings with trustees and student leaders. Over the next couple days, he will meet with administrators and other people important to the University, building his way to the federal level.
Three items immediately came to mind for him to prioritize: getting ready for summer graduation, gearing up for 5,000 freshmen in August and preparing the University’s budget for presentation in September.
Following the federal-budget timeline, Auburn’s Board of Trustees annually sets the guidelines for the budget at its June meeting. The University then works over the summer to prepare the final budget at the September meeting for approval.
From increases in research to significant enrollment growth, the Auburn Family has undoubtedly gone through changes since Gogue’s first stint as president. However, he’s stuck around to see much of the change. In his couple years of retirement, he has served on the City of Auburn’s Industrial Review Board as well as taught a course at Auburn on leadership.
As he settles into the job ahead, Gogue is keeping the first principle of leadership that he teaches students in his course.
“A lot of people want to hit the ground running, but my experience is you want to hit the ground listening.”
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