Advice for incoming college freshmen: My top-ten list

By Robert Mann

Over the next few weeks, thousands of anxious and excited young people will descend upon university campuses across the country to begin their college careers. As a college professor, I always love the first week of the school year, as I get to witness the fear, excitement and wonder in the eyes of so many remarkable young people as they start a new chapter of their lives.

Walk across any college campus on those first few days and you’ll see all kinds of dramas unfold. Parents bid tearful goodbyes after moving their child into the dorm. New students head off to their first classes, some are confident and full of purpose; others, tentative and a bid intimidated. For many, it’s the first time they’ve lived in a “big city.”

They’re all eager to prove themselves in this new world, but are understandably fearful. I imagine they ask themselves, as I once did, “Do I really belong here? Will I make it? Will I fit in?”

Last spring, my church honored me with the opportunity to speak to a luncheon of our graduating high school seniors. I did my best to share with them the most practical advice I could give about college. While you can find my notes for the entire talk here (First United Methodist Church Senior Luncheon), I offer you an abridged version of my talk. Perhaps it will be helpful to the college freshmen in your life.

1. Learn time management and good study habits. There will be no one waking you up, no one to remind you to go to class, no one telling you to study and no one reminding you of that test. Get a planner. Read your syllabus. Write down all the due dates for the assignments. And don’t wait until the last minute to write your papers.

2. Anticipate that you will have conflicts with roommates and other people you encounter. Don’t give up on people too quickly. Of course, don’t stay around people who might hurt you in some way and you certainly don’t want a roommate who stays up all night if you’re the type to go to bed early. But embrace and enjoy the different people you’ll meet.

3. Get to know your professors. Go to class. Sit on the front row. Go to their office hours. You never know what opportunity (job, scholarship or internship) might come your way because you got to know that professor.

4. Travel abroad if you can. Do internships. Join student organizations. There are a million opportunities for fun and out-of-class learning. Find what suits you, but don’t miss out of the other side of college. Get involved in something that doesn’t involve sitting in a classroom.

5. If you need help, ask for it. Whether it’s help learning how to improve your writing, or dealing with emotional distress, homesickness or despair that you’ve got the wrong major. Ask a professor or a departmental counselor to point you in the right direction. Every college has staff to help you in ways you can’t even imagine.

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Louisiana should treat the Rick Perry case like Ebola

By Robert Mann

Can’t I believe that Texas Gov. Rick Perry is a wretched person and a terrible governor without also wishing to see him behind bars?

For some reason, with some political partisans, the two opinions are not mutually exclusive.

For those not paying attention in the past 24 hours, a Texas grand jury has indicted Perry, the outgoing Republican governor who appears to be running for president. The charge: public corruption.

It’s a complicated case and you can read all about it on the web. Long story short: a county district attorney who also runs a Texas public corruption unit got arrested for drunk driving in 2013. She spent 45 days in jail, but refused to resign. This DA was also investigating Perry for some unrelated potential criminal activity. Perry tried to force her to resign. She wouldn’t, so Perry vetoed her budget in an attempt to force her from office.

Perhaps the DA should have done the right thing and stepped down. Perhaps the allegations she was investigating would have led to Perry’s indictment on other charges. We may never know. Perhaps Perry could have found another way to push her from office.

Perhaps. Perhaps.

But this case is not merely about criminal activity. It’s about a disturbing trend in American politics. To sum it up: I can’t beat you at the polls, so I’ll indict you. I may not send you to jail, but I’ll send you into political purgatory.

This story, sadly, is about the criminalization of American politics.

I’m not suggesting that politicians never commit crimes for which they should be imprisoned. Richard Nixon comes to mind, as does Louisiana’s own Richard Leche, a corrupt governor convicted and imprisoned in the early 1940s.

I think Gov. Bobby Jindal is an awful governor who falsely professes to care about our children and who tolerates unethical behavior within his administration. I think Sen. David Vitter is a disgraceful hypocrite. His election as governor in 2015 would sully the office, which is saying quite a lot.

But I don’t believe either man should be thrown into jail.

Is it possible that a public official could so poorly represent his constituents that some of them actually die (Jindal’s refusal to accept Medicaid expansion has almost certainly resulted in deaths) and yet shouldn’t be sent to prison?

In fact, in our political system, that’s exactly the case. In the end, I’d rather see the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire reject Perry for president because he was a terrible governor. In our system of government, we should find that kind of judgment much more satisfying than seeing someone tossed into jail after being tried on politically motivated charges.

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Under Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s culture of corruption hasn’t changed

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By Robert Mann

The sneaky, dishonest way Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature shoveled an extra $30,000 in annual retirement benefits to the head of the Louisiana State Police should forever prevent Jindal from bragging about having cleaned up his state’s politics.

It won’t, but the events that resulted in an illegal retirement boost for Col. Mike Edmonson – Jindal’s appointed police chief – suggests that Louisiana politics remains a cesspool of cronyism.

In the closing hours of the 2014 legislative session, legislators passed legislation with an amendment granting Edmonson and another state trooper – both enrolled in the state’s DROP retirement plan, but still working and earning full salaries – additional retirement benefits.

Of course, the amendment didn’t mention Edmonson or anyone else by name. That fact didn’t give legislators pause. They passed the bill without the required fiscal impact statement. Only after Jindal’s signature did we discover the retirement honey pot and its cost.

Had they asked any questions, legislators might have realized they were giving $300,000 in extra retirement benefits to just two individuals. Actually, they spent much more money than that, as the fiscal analysis (conducted after the bill passed) only assessed the impact of the bill’s first five years. Edmonson is 55. He stands to collect the extra money for several decades.

When state Treasurer John Kennedy and the state’s news media (including dogged bloggers C.B. Forgotston and Tom Aswell) challenged the propriety of the deal, no one seemed to know where the amendment originated. After first denying authorship, Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia), a close Jindal ally, finally acknowledged his role.

Could the LSU Board of Supervisors get any older, whiter?

LSU system photo

By Robert Mann

It’s not enough that Gov. Bobby Jindal has stuffed his LSU Board of Supervisors with white males (there is only one woman and one African-American and they are the same person); he’s now appointed a white male who doesn’t even reside in Louisiana.

It’s well known that former U.S. Rep. Jim McCrery, once of Shreveport, gave Jindal his start in politics by making him an intern in his Washington, D.C., office. Jindal obviously wants to return the favor by giving McCrery — now a well-paid Washington lobbyist — a plum appointment.

He did so on Thursday, by putting McCrery on the LSU Board.

The only problem is that the LSU Board is chock full of old, white guys. The state’s flagship university badly needs some diversity.

Doesn’t Jindal know any black Washington, D.C., lobbyists?

Bobby Jindal and David Vitter are both hypocritical on Common Core

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By Robert Mann

When I listen to Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. David Vitter fight over Louisiana’s participation in Common Core, it sounds like the dispute of a dysfunctional family, in which the parents are oblivious to how their brawl hurts the children.

Plates sail, curses fly and the terrified kids huddle behind the sofa, praying they won’t be hit in the crossfire.

Like too many domestic disputes, our leaders’ battle over Common Core pays no mind to what’s best for the kids. Instead, the players seem concerned only with their political futures. They posture and switch positions with ease, pandering to whichever audience is more likely to help them capture higher office.

Chief among those ignoring the children is Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Once, Jindal helped lead the national effort to write and adopt the Common Core academic standards. His bold signature is upon a document, the Common Core Standards Memorandum of Agreement, which states, “The time is right for a state-led, nation-wide effort to establish a common core of standards that raises the bar for all students.” Jindal also signed a memorandum of understanding in June 2010, declaring Louisiana’s intent to compete for federal funds to implement the Common Core standards.

In January 2012, he told the Legislature, “Adopting the Common Core State Standards . . . will raise expectations for every child.”

As soon as he started getting pushback from the tea party types, however, Jindal dropped those standards like a steaming crawfish. “The feds are taking over and rushing this,” Jindal now says. “Let’s face it: centralized planning didn’t work in Russia, it’s not working with our health care system and it won’t work in education.” Jindal is now in a pitched battle with state Education Department officials over Common Core.

Sorry, kids, I know the nice governor once vowed hopeless devotion to those education standards, but, for goodness sake, he has a presidential election to win. Seriously, young man, could you live with the fact that your selfish desire to read and write might prevent someone with Jindal’s colossal talents from reaching the White House? I thought not.

Continue reading on at this link.

David Vitter: Against Common Core before he was for it

U.S. Sen. David Vitter

U.S. Sen. David Vitter

By Robert Mann

Trying to separate himself from his arch-rival, Gov. Bobby Jindal, it seems that U.S. Sen. David Vitter is having trouble remembering exactly where he stands on important issues, such as Common Core.

On Friday, Vitter endorsed the Common Core educational standards that Jindal once supported, but is now vigorously working to repeal.

“I strongly support the Common Core standards,” Vitter said in an interview with C-SPAN. Vitter went even further, taking a partisan swipe at Jindal: “I support the strong standards Louisiana now has in place and think Governor Jindal’s attempt to start from scratch right before the new school year is very disruptive,” he said.

All the Louisiana press dutifully reported Vitter’s statement, but somehow missed that just a few months ago, Vitter sent out a fundraising appeal in which he declared his opposition to Common Core.

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Vitter letter p4

On page four of the fundraising letter (no date, but clearly after his January 2014 announcement), Vitter tells supporters and potential donors:

“I am prepared to lead on these issues as Governor — to get our economy moving, hold the line on taxes, and protect our citizens from ObamaCare, the president’s insane environmental regulations, heavy-handed big government policies like ‘Common Core,’ and all the rest.” [Emphasis mine]

So, just a few months ago, Vitter believed Common Core was a “heavy-handed big government” policy. Today, however, he “strongly supports” it.

What changed in the past few months, other than Jindal’s position on Common Core?

I wonder if any enterprising reporter will ask Vitter about this very strange policy change. Did Vitter suddenly discover some hidden virtues of Common Core that eluded him earlier this year? Or, as seems more likely, is this simply a reflexive, politically motivated shift to separate himself from Jindal?

In any event, is this the kind of  wish-washy “leadership” we should expect from a Gov. Vitter? Is the education of Louisiana’s children just a matter of political convenience, a game he plays as he tries to one-up and shame Jindal?

Based on the available evidence, it certainly looks that way.


Packing our prisons is not making us safer

By Robert Mann

If stuffing our prisons with criminals reduced crime, shouldn’t Louisiana be the safest place on earth? Instead, with the highest incarceration rate in the country (in the nation with the world’s highest incarceration rate), Louisiana is among the most violent states.

We have the nation’s worst murder rate – 10.8 per 100,000, 45 percent higher than runner-up Mississippi – and the nation’s highest gun-death rate. Overall, we have the seventh highest crime rate. Just tossing more and more people into prisons (with longer sentences for more crimes) has not made us safer.

It’s time to try something different. In addition to reducing the list of crimes that require prison time, Louisiana should consider releasing thousands of nonviolent inmates. They not only cost us a fortune to house, but prison for them is just a training academy for more serious crime.

There’s actually some compelling evidence in two new studies, which suggest that reducing our prison population might actually make us safer.

First, some background. Since the 1980s, states have been packing prisons with increasing numbers of nonviolent offenders, people convicted of property and drug crimes. In 1980, states sent nine people out of 100,000 to prison for drug crimes; in 2009, the number jumped to 47 of 100,000, but has since started to decline.

Louisiana was the most aggressive. In the past 20 years, Louisiana has doubled its prison population. As The Times-Picayune | reported in 2012, “One in 86 adult Louisianians is doing time, nearly double the national average.”

Despite tougher laws, harsher prison sentences and more inmates, why has Louisiana’s crime rate remained so stubbornly high? The problem, as explained in a study published in May by the Brookings Institution, is that putting more people behind bars only makes you safer if your incarceration rate is already low.

Continue reading on at this link.