Shots fired: What’s the meaning and the fallout over LSU’s decision to threaten exigency?

By Robert Mann

The word about LSU’s financial woes, particularly the threat of academic bankruptcy, is now national news. From the Boston Globe to Bloomberg News to the Houston Chronicle to Al Jazeera America, the news is out that LSU is on the ropes.

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First, LSU President F. King Alexander issued a statement on Wednesday, in which he said, “Based on the current status of the budget debate, we have decided to begin contingency planning for exigency as many of our campuses may be impacted, as well as other campuses across the state.”

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Exigency is the academic equivalent of bankruptcy or insolvency. It would allow the university to fire or furlough tenured faculty and instructors. Even partial exigency will ruin a university’s reputation.

Already, it’s sure bet that recruiters from the University of Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU’s other regional competitors are reminding their academic prospects that LSU might not be open for business in the fall.

And you can bet Tiger Stadium that Nick Saban and his recruiters (as well as coaches from other schools that compete against LSU for top athletic talent) are telling high school prospects, “Do you really want to take a chance on a school that’s telling the world it might not be open for classes in the fall?”

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For Jindal, if the choice is tax hikes vs closing LSU, it’s “Bye, bye LSU”

By Robert Mann

I was talking with a friend the other day about Louisiana’s massive budget shortfall and the threat it poses to higher education, in general, and LSU, in particular. I observed that, eventually, Jindal’s loyalty to his no-tax-increase pledge to Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform would trump everything. In other words, if Jindal is forced to choose between raising taxes and letting LSU go under, it will be, “Bye, bye, LSU.”

My friend, who has one of smartest political minds I know, disagreed. Ultimately, he said, Jindal’s cronies on the LSU Board of Supervisors would trek to the Governor’s Mansion for a serious heart-to-heart with the governor. They would tell him the truth. They would tell him the game over was.

“Nice play, governor,” they will tell him. “You held onto the no-tax line for as long as humanly possible, but this is reality. You either support some tax increases, or our state’s flagship institution will cease to exist.”

Faced with that choice, my friend said that Jindal would finally relent. The potential press backlash in places like Iowa and New Hampshire would be so devastating that Jindal would have no choice but to break his pledge, raise a few taxes and save higher education.

Perhaps that is how the scenario will play out. But, as someone fairly close to Jindal told me today — and I’m paraphrasing here — “We worked hard, lined up all the right legislators behind a plan to raise the tax revenue to save higher education and Jindal has already undermined much of the deal by threatening to veto the state budget if it has tax increases.”  Continue reading

The intolerable cost of America’s gun violence

By Robert Mann

When I saw the quote, I thought it was a parody from The Onion, the satirical online “news” organization, which features fake stories like, “U.S. Encouraging Cuba To Shift Toward Democratic System Of Corruption.”

Unfortunately, this story was real. The Guardian reported that Gov. Bobby Jindal, while speaking recently to the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Nashville, called the NRA the nation’s “most effective civil rights organization.”

A politician in full pander mode is an impressive sight – that is if one is impressed by the nonsense and mendacities common to Jindal’s speeches. On this day, Jindal was at his rhetorical best – if, by “best,” one means, “I will utter whatever claptrap the audience to which I am speaking craves.”

“The same liberal extremists that want to come take our guns are the same forces that want to take away our religious liberty,” Jindal told the adoring NRA crowd.

The NRA, of course, demands unreserved fealty to its perverse interpretation of the Second Amendment. It should rename it “The Amendment,” the only portion of the Bill of Rights it seems to respect. Well, except for the portion of the First Amendment that mentions “freedom of religion,” which Jindal and the NRA leadership apparently regard as the right to worship their firearms. When Jindal speaks about God and guns, he is redundant.

The irony of Louisiana’s governor preaching the Gospel of Gunpowder and Lead is appalling. According to a recent analysis of data obtained from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, no state has a higher gun violence rate than Louisiana. The Violence Policy Center examined that data (from 2013) and concluded “that states [like Louisiana] with weak gun violence prevention laws and higher rates of gun ownership have the highest overall gun death rates in the nation.”

Once again, Louisiana leads a list of shame. Busy pretending that he has transformed his state into a southern Utopia, Jindal has done nothing to address Louisiana’s gun violence epidemic. Instead, in Nashville, he attacked President Barack Obama and his allies, who he claims believe gun owners are “dumb rubes or dumber still because we cling bitterly to our guns and our religion.”

As a Christian and the owner of several firearms, I don’t regard church-going gun owners as rubes. Jindal, however, does. Despite what he and other fear mongers say, the policies most gun-control advocates support don’t involve taking away guns from any law-abiding citizen.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Sinking flagship: LSU prepares paperwork for declaring bankruptcy

By Robert Mann

LSU President F. King Alexander’s stunning announcement Wednesday that he’s drawing up official bankruptcy papers for the school is just one step short of naming the colleges and departments that he will close if the Legislature does not raise the funds to close the $1.6 billion budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year.

Unless Gov. Bobby Jindal and legislators come up with a budget solution very soon, you can cancel just about every ongoing faculty search at LSU and watch as the exodus of faculty accelerates.

Students, especially incoming freshmen who have offers from out-of-state colleges, will start bailing out, too, as it increasingly appears there could be no fall semester at the state’s flagship university.

As reporter Julia O’Donoghue wrote in NOLA.com on Wednesday:

Louisiana’s flagship university began putting together the paperwork for declaring financial exigency this week, when the Legislature appeared to make little progress on finding a state budget solution, according to King Alexander, president and chancellor of LSU. 

“We don’t say that to scare people” he said. “Basically, it is how we are going to survive.

Moody’s Investors Service also announced this month (April 22) that it was downgrading LSU’s credit outlook from positive to stable, based on concerns about the the university’s overall financial support. A downgrade is LSU’s credit rating will make it more expensive to borrow money for campus building projects, and is another sign the school’s finances are in trouble. 

Being in a state of financial exigency means a university’s funding situation is so difficult that the viability of the entire institution is threatened. The status makes it easier for public colleges to shut down programs and lay off tenured faculty, but it also tarnishes the school’s reputation, making it harder to recruit faculty and students. 

“You’ll never get any more faculty,” said Alexander, if LSU pursues financial exigency. 

Read the full story at this link.

Late on Wednesday afternoon, Alexander sent the following message in an email to all LSU students, faculty and staff:

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My manifesto (or, Why I won’t stop writing this blasted blog)

By Robert Mann

Almost three years ago, I created a blog, which I eventually began to call “Something Like the Truth.” At the time, I had not heard Carl Bernstein, the former Washington Post journalist of Watergate fame, articulate his definition of journalism – “the best obtainable version of the truth” – but the name of the blog was an attempt to communicate what I later heard Bernstein say during a visit to LSU and which I found in the poem at this link.

This was my unspoken, unwritten philosophy and the spirit, which I hope has guided me more often than not:

This is what I believe to be true. We may disagree. You may, in fact, be correct and I may be wrong. What is truth, anyway? Perhaps the best we can do is wrestle with whatever facts we have available and hope that they sometimes are enough to persuade us to relinquish some of our presuppositions and challenge our long-held biases or prejudices. Sometimes, I’ll be certain I am correct and I’ll state my views firmly. Other times, I hope to share with you my own doubts and uncertainties. The best any of us can do, I believe, when we are arguing about politics, faith or life is to arrive at something like the truth.

That is not to say that I haven’t often stated my opinions as if I am certain I am right. They are opinions and they are mine. I hope they are founded on fact, evidence and a sense of justice and fairness. The blog’s title, however, has always been a subtle reminder to me, and my readers, that while I think I am correct, I do not assert that I have found “the truth” about any subject or that I have anything close to a monopoly on truth. Like you, I’m just stumbling through this life, doing the best I can – in my job, with my family and in my relationship with God.

That’s some mighty long throat clearing, I know, but it brings me to the point of this post, which is to explain some of the reasons I continue to speak out about public affairs and politics – including (maybe, particularly) about higher education, in general, and my employer, Louisiana State University, in particular. A few weeks ago, the publisher of the Baton Rouge Business Report, Rolfe McCollister, published a column in which he questioned the very ethics of my weekly Times-Picayune column and the bad example it sets for my students at the Manship School of Mass Communication, where I serve as a professor and where I hold the Manship Chair in Journalism.

McCollister also serves on the LSU Board of Supervisors and I had recently published a column in the Times-Picayune calling on the next governor to dismiss the entire board for its failure to publicly defend the university out of, I suspect, a misplaced fealty to Gov. Bobby Jindal, who appointed all of 16 them (except the one student member). I’ll let Rolfe speak for himself:

Mann is one to take full advantage of free speech and faculty tenure as he pontificates in his columns on all that’s evil. Hey, this is America, and I respect that right. But I am getting the feeling that Mann switches his hats often and there may be an ethical question with his two roles. Not a good example for Mann to set for LSU students.

I asked a former seasoned journalist about the ethics of a faculty member who has a second job as a journalist and writes about his university. He said, “Every good journalist knows that you cannot ethically cover the institution that pays your salary and the people who supervise the work you do for that salary.

The ethical equation doesn’t change if a reporter vilifies those people. Who is to say the reporter’s self-interest isn’t involved? Would the reporter be better off if the person they criticize was fired? Did the administrator make the reporter angry one day and now it’s a chance to get even? When journalists don’t recognize this fundamental aspect of journalism, everything they write, on any topic, lacks credibility.”

I wonder if Times-Picayune editor Jim Amoss (who sits on the LSU Manship School Board of Visitors) has thought about that conflict? It is obvious Mann hasn’t. (I suspect I will now be the target in one of Mann’s blogs. Oh well, it won’t be the first time.)

After McCollister’s column, I responded on my blog and McCollister added his own postscript to his column. After he wrote that postscript, McCollister kindly texted me one afternoon in early April and invited me to meet with him. He observed that we had been friends for many years and that we both cared deeply about LSU. Life was too short, he seemed to be saying, to let a dispute over the conduct of the LSU Board damage our friendship. I agreed. Continue reading

Bobby Jindal is now against corporate welfare?

By Robert Mann

Are Louisiana’s corporations heroic job creators or greedy welfare addicts? It depends on when you ask Gov. Bobby Jindal. Two years ago, Jindal wanted to abolish the state’s corporate income tax. “Louisiana’s current tax climate results in competitive disadvantages for businesses and individuals by penalizing hard work and increased earnings,” Jindal said in March 2013. 

The plan – which also included eliminating the personal income tax – was so reckless that the state’s top corporate lobby, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, opposed it. Jindal surrendered one day into the 2013 session.

Two years later, our governor has had an epiphany. He once said we were crushing businesses with oppressive taxes. This past week, however, Jindal told lawmakers, “The truth is, today, we have a system of corporate welfare in this state.”

Legislators did not applaud that line. Perhaps they were dumbfounded that Jindal suddenly attacked the very businesses he has pampered for seven years. “Our businesses are a great asset,” Jindal explained. “But we cannot stand idly by while companies pay zero in state taxes and then continue getting free taxpayer money from the government on top of it.” 

Jindal was likely referring to the recent news from the Department of Revenue that some prominent corporations are not paying state income taxes. According to the Associated Press, an audit by the department found that of the 87 largest corporations that filed tax returns in 2012, only one-fourth paid any income taxes to the state. While the department cannot identify those companies because of privacy laws, Jindal suggested some of those corporations are pocketing underserved tax credits and subsidies.

“We have identified over $500 million of corporate welfare spending that we think should be cut to help protect higher education and health care,” Jindal said Monday (April 13).

Even by Jindal’s low standards, his sudden opposition to “corporate welfare” qualifies as stunning hypocrisy. Legislators surely recalled that only two years before, Jindal wanted to eliminate all corporate taxes. And they undoubtedly remembered that last year Jindal vetoed a bill they passed, which required detailed accounting for many of the “incentive expenditures” that Jindal now calls “corporate welfare.”

Explaining his veto last year, Jindal claimed the legislation could have “the unintended consequence of an aggregate tax increase on businesses and/or individuals” and “could create uncertainty about the state’s commitment to job creation and economic development.” Further clarifying that veto, Jindal wrote these astonishing words: “Americans for Tax Reform agree and has asked for a veto.” Translation: Grover Norquist made me do it.

But today, according to Jindal, “it would be wrong for us to impose cuts to higher education in order to protect this corporate welfare.”

I know Jindal hasn’t spent much time in Louisiana lately but, surely, he did not just learn that state government bestows billions in unwise subsidies and tax credits upon businesses. In fact, I am certain Jindal has long known about this corporate welfare because he has held press conferences with dozens of corporate welfare kings. Those would be the executives of companies Jindal and legislators have showered with hundreds of millions in tax dollars to lure them to Louisiana.

Every month, it seems, our governor brags that he has lured some new business to the state. In Monday’s speech, he boasted about “90,000 more jobs from companies that have expanded in our state” since he became governor.

Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.

Bobby Jindal claims credit for an economic miracle that’s really a mirage

By Robert Mann

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s “State of the State” address to the Louisiana Legislature on Monday was such a cornucopia of half-truths and distortions, it’s difficult to know where to start.

The longer Jindal serves as governor, the greater a fabulist he becomes.

Among the many problems with Jindal’s speech was a clever bit of revisionist history he presented to lawmakers about the state’s economy under his stewardship.  Jindal told legislators that he’s leaving Louisiana’s economy much better off than he found it. That is patently false.

You have to look no further than the state’s projected $1.6 billion budget shortfall to realize that a supercharged state business climate would generate enough tax revenue to keep the state’s universities from closing. I don’t know what is Jindal’s definition of economic vitality, but it is nothing like what Louisiana legislators are facing in the coming months.

Here’s how Jindal cast his leadership of the state’s economy:

I’d like to start by asking you to think back to ten years ago, about the time hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit our state. Louisiana was at rock bottom.

Our economy was stagnant. We had over two decades of outmigration, with more people leaving Louisiana than moving here. Job were scarce and the future didn’t look so bright. And then the storms hit. . . . 

Fast forward to today, and you see a far different picture of Louisiana. And you see the true greatness of our people.

Together — we rebuilt and we are today stronger than we’ve ever been before.

Perhaps Jindal and his speechwriter do not have access to the website of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), but I do.

Turns out, exactly 10 years ago, in April 2005, Louisiana’s unemployment rate was 5.7 percent. As of last February, it was 6.7 percent. That’s one point higher than 10 years ago.

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Louisiana Employment Figures (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
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Bureau of Labor Statistics

The month that Katrina hit Louisiana — August 2005 — Louisiana’s unemployment rate was up to 7.3 percent, a half-point higher than it was in February 2015 (the date for which the most-recent BLS state numbers are available).

In 2005, Louisiana’s economy was not, as Jindal claimed, at “rock bottom.” Our unemployment rate was higher than the 4.9 percent national average, but far from the bottom.

Here is a graph of Louisiana’s unemployment rate from the BLS, tracking Louisiana’s unemployment rate over the past 10 years. It does not exactly support Jindal’s contention that he has turned around Louisiana’s economy.

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