Southeastern Magazine

Lasting Leadership: President John L. Crain

Over the past 15 years, the world—and with it the Southeastern region—has undergone sweeping changes.

Sheri Gibson

May 15, 2023

Retiring this summer, University President John L. Crain has spent his career effectively serving Southeastern through dauntless determination, acumen, and skill.

Over the past 15 years, the world—and with it the Southeastern region—has undergone sweeping changes. From the Great Recession, devastating hurricanes, and COVID-19 to technological shifts in how we gather information, are entertained, work, and interact with each other, resulting in alterations within our cultural fabric, the past decade and a half has indeed been eventful.

With all these momentous events and transformations taking shape, it could have become easy for Southeastern and those who call it home to become entrenched in uncertainty or to falter and fail to adapt in the face of both hardships and change.

But the Southeastern community continues to remain strong. Against the seemingly endless barrage of obstacles imparted by the outside world, this strength has been not only ensured but fostered by the University’s leader, President John L. Crain. Under his guidance, as president and even prior, the nearly century-old institution has been able to continue its mission of helping students reach their best possible futures while serving as an integral resource and economic driver within the region.

Born John Luther Crain in Franklinton, La., in 1960, his knowledge of the Southeastern area and what makes it so special, along with dedication to serving it and all who call it home, runs deep.

“I grew up in a small town in nearby rural Washington Parish,” said Crain. “As the nearest university, Southeastern figured largely in all sorts of high school-related events like the science fair, literary rally, and music competitions. I became familiar and comfortable with the campus long before enrolling. I also became keenly aware of the impact Southeastern had on my home community as so many people I knew were alumni.”

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John Crain has his Southeastern freshman yearbook photo taken for the 1981 Le Souvenir. Image courtesy of Le Souvenir/Office of Student Publications

Crain’s aptitude and commitment to excellence was apparent from early on. In 1978, he graduated from Franklinton High School first in his class. And when it came time to pick a college, he chose Southeastern. In 1981 he completed a BS in accounting, and in 1983 he gained
certification as a public accountant, working for the firm of Seal, Smith, and Vaughn, CPAs.

But as a motivated, life-long learner, his formal education didn’t end there. In 1984 Crain, who is also an accomplished pianist, earned an MBA from Southeastern. He then was accepted into an accounting doctoral program at the University of Mississippi, from which he graduated in 1988.

“One of the real watershed moments in my life occurred during the MBA program at Southeastern,” said Crain. “After I successfully completed the CPA exam, the head of the Department of Accounting, Dr. Ernie Correa, asked me to teach a section of Introductory Accounting as part of my graduate assistantship. That was my first experience teaching, and after that first semester, I was hooked. As a result, my education and career plans changed completely, and I turned down a slot I had earned to study law at LSU and instead enrolled in the doctoral program at Ole Miss.”

During his doctoral studies, his ties with Southeastern remained close, and in 1986, while working on his dissertation, Crain officially became a faculty member in Southeastern’s Department of Accounting, a position which he held for 15 years. In 2001 he became interim provost, and one year later was officially named provost and vice president for academic affairs.

crain_roomie_a031009_112Throughout his years at Southeastern prior to becoming president, Crain served the University and demonstrated deep leadership qualities in many ways. He rose through the ranks to become head of the Department of Accounting, chaired the Council of Department Heads, coordinated faculty research for the then College of Business and Technology, was president of the Faculty Senate, and oversaw the University’s Small Business Development Center as interim director.

Crain led within the broader arena outside of Southeastern as well. He provided guidance on the Louisiana Board of Regents Master Plan National Advisory Panel Workgroup on Retention and Completion, was a member of the Louisiana Blue Ribbon Commission on Educational Excellence, and chaired the Accounting Education Issues Committee of the Society of Louisiana CPAs. He has also contributed as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges; the Executive Committee of the Northshore Business Council; the board of North Oaks Foundation; the board of GNO, Inc; the Committee of 100 for Economic Development; the Hammond Rotary Club; the board of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum; and the board of the Louisiana Children’s Discovery Museum. He has additionally been a member of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, American Accounting Association, American Taxation Association, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, and the Louisiana Society of Certified Public Accountants.

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In addition to learning to become an effective leader and demonstrating exemplary skill at being one, he also made many esteemed scholarly contributions, authoring 63 articles in academic journals and delivering at least 35 academic conference presentations. He also served on the review boards for reputable journals, including the Accounting Educator’s Journal and the Delta Business Review.

Crain’s academic research focused on taxation and the oil and gas industry, and in 1992 he became the recipient of Southeastern’s President’s Award for Excellence in Research, one of the University’s most distinguished honors.

In 2008, succeeding Randy Moffett, he was named interim president. The next year, Crain was officially selected as the 14th president of Southeastern Louisiana University. His efforts and well-cultivated skills had culminated in an appointment to the highest possible position within the institution he has been so dedicated to serving.

a102310_0521With the Great Recession having already taken a firm grip on the University, as it did to countless others across the country, Crain’s transition to president came at an opportune time. Jumping in immediately, his extensive background in accounting was a boon to the institution, and combined with his staunch determination and calm, receptive, resilient, and professional demeanor, he was able to successfully lead Southeastern through one of its most trying times.

Since then, through the unavoidable ups and downs and everchanging world, Crain has remained a steadfast and reliable stalwart, facing anything that arose head on and in turn not only holding the University together, but keeping it thriving for countless generations to come.

a121022_1405This summer, Crain will embark on the next chapter of his life, one that has been unequivocally well earned: retirement. As that time draws nearer, many may find it hard to imagine the University without John L. Crain, a now 45-year member of the Southeastern family. But even after his last day in office, his vast and deeply rooted impact will continue to be felt across Southeastern and all those he has served through it.

“I have very mixed emotions about retiring and leaving the University that has been such a big part of my life for so long,” said Crain. “I also have immense gratitude for being given the opportunity to serve as president of my alma mater, and I thank all the individuals with whom I have had the chance to work. As much as I still enjoy the work and the people, I also know instinctively it is in both my personal best interest and that of the University to not stay too long. As the Bible says and as the song goes, to everything there is a season, and 15 years as president is indeed a long season.

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