Higher Education in Louisiana

Long time readers of this site know that I rarely comment on political matters. In part, I don’t write about politics because doing so can too often lead to unintended imbroglios that really aren’t how I want to spend my time. And, too, it’s amazing how sensitive people can get about political matters. I pulled a previous version of these on-line notes because one person was offended by one post and wanted to make more of it than there was to make. Again, it’s just not how I want to spend my time.

Nevertheless, no one in the state of Louisiana has been able to ignore the huge budget deficit, the product of the perfect storm of the larger national economic crisis, the drop in oil prices, and the end of the Katrina federal funds. Because of the peculiarity of the Louisiana budget, a peculiarity that seems to suit many legislators, most parts of the budget are protected except for two: public hospitals and higher education. (In a rare moment of something, the arts are actually protected in Louisiana.) As things built to a head in the fall, the state cut 5% out of the higher education budget, which meant that a number of programs that were about to get underway, suddenly disappeared. In the spring, our illustrious governor sent a budget to the legislature that included another 14.5% in cuts to higher education. My assumption was that he was trying to force a re-thinking of the way budget works, to unprotect some areas and make it so higher education and hospitals aren’t always taking the fall for the state’s larger woes.

Worse, another 20% in cuts was proposed for the following year.

During the negotiations, it became increasingly clear that the conventional wisdom among the state-level policy wonks was that higher education itself must be “re-structured” and/or “consolidated.” The governor was remarkably silent on all matters, and really it was the work of a handful of state senators who saved higher education in the state from the worst of it. The end result was that universities and community colleges will absorb a 7% cut, in addition to the 5% cut made mid-year, for a total of 12% for the year.

What finally drew me to write this note was an editorial by Raymond Blanco in today’s _Daily Advertizer_ in which he pointed out that Jim Tucker, speaker of the state House of Representatives, is the largest antagonist to higher education, making a number of menacing comments over the course of the budget negotiations. This is especially troubling since Tucker is, by all accounts, the real power behind the scenes, at least on the Republican side of things. (How much more power he has I leave for others to discover and/or speculate about.)

It’s already the case that faculty working in Louisiana pay a price in terms of their long-term financial stability, given the remarkable difference in benefits between Louisiana and other universities with which I am familiar. I fear for the future of higher education in a climate where one of the most powerful men in the state clearly seeks to diminish what little place higher ed has. I am making absolutely no predictions nor evaluations. Politics is what it is. Louisiana is what it is. Each of us tries, I hope, in our own way to make things better.

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