By Erik Koike
Since Jay Clune has been President of Nicholls State University, he and his wife Allison have embraced a full partnership in achieving their vision of a cultural and physical reformation of the university.
“I go to a lot of events for Nicholls and the community,” Allison Clune says. “I see myself as an ambassador in that role, which is a role I love because I believe Nicholls is such a wonderful place. I just love this kind of community. It’s the people and the culture, they opened up the doors from the minute we got here, they’re just incredible.”
Dr. Donald J. Ayo, who served as Nicholls president from 1983-2003, recognizes the Clunes’ impact since coming to lead Nicholls in 2018.
“I think Jay and Allison have set a new direction for Nicholls State University, and it’s very refreshing to have a local person who is a graduate of Nicholls to come back,” Ayo says. “Nicholls is a very unique institution, and you have to have a real love and feeling for it to be able to respond to the needs of the people that we serve.”
The Clunes have spent the past 20 years living outside of Louisiana. For 13 years, Jay Clune served in various roles at the University of West Florida. They say when the opportunity came for Jay to serve as president of his alma mater, it became an obvious choice.
Allison Clune, a Louisiana native, says their final decision to make the move came down to one thing: family.
“It’s coming home for us. Louisiana is always in your heart, it’s such a unique place and we were just thrilled to come back.”
Allison Clune spent the first five years of her childhood living in Plaquemines Parish before Hurricane Camille devastated the area in 1969. This storm forced her parents to move their family to New Orleans. However, she spent many of her weekends, summers and holidays returning to Plaquemines to spend time with other family members who remained in the area.
She recalls her father speaking Cajun-French and riding with him on his tractor through the family’s orange grove. She says the lifestyle she has discovered in Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes brings back these childhood memories.
Jay Clune was born in Houma and earned his undergraduate degree at Nicholls in 1986. He says his time spent studying at Nicholls was likely similar to many students who are just starting college: a young person trying to find the areas of study that are the most interesting.
“I was good at flying under the radar. I was so mediocre that no one knew I came here. I didn’t always exert myself in the classroom, so I got to really explore the campus.”
More than 30 years later, Jay Clune says his experience as a Nicholls student helped him to identify locations that needed the most attention.
“I absolutely love this campus. I loved being on it and I loved every minute I was here. I knew every nook and cranny, and even after we left I would come back for visits and see what was changing.”
Now at the helm of Jay’s alma mater, the Clunes explain their vision as a culmination of three simple ideas: people, places and programs.
“We talk about people places and programs in that order because if you don’t have the right people and faculty, nothing is going to work, so we try to keep the best and brightest faculty here,” Jay Clune says.
“The places they live have to be first class, because the new recruits are not going to come if places like the union continued to look the way it looked. And the academic programs you matriculate in need to be first class and high quality, if you don’t have the right professor, nothing else matters.”
As a team, Jay and Allison Clune have provided input and created ideas that have helped bring to life the beautification of buildings such as the ballroom, Bollinger Suites and Student Union.
“It’s all about making “sticky places” where students want to be and want to stay,” Jay Clune says.
“They won’t leave campus, they won’t go back to their dorm rooms, they want to hang out. In everything we do that’s what you’re going to see. A place where students want to be.”
The Clunes make no secret that the Nicholls’ students and faculty are their priority, but they still value the time spent together at home as a family once their work day is done.
“I have to remind Allison that we are off sometimes because she’s always talking about projects. Sometimes I need to say ‘I’m off the clock’, but she’s always thinking about this place and dreaming about what’s next.”
The Clunes make it a priority to represent Nicholls as a team. From traveling to away Colonels football games to attending conferences, the Clunes travel together as much as possible.
“We often get the comment that we don’t see other presidents and their wives out together as a team,” Jay Clune says. “And I don’t know how I’d do it without her because this is more than a full-time job even for two people.”
Just as the Clunes work together for Nicholls, they say they are just a part of the collaboration with the region — all working for a better Bayou region.
“As goes Nicholls so goes the entire Bayou region, and as goes the Bayou region goes Nicholls.”