So, Gov. Bobby Jindal is running LSU. Why should we care?

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louis...
Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana (Photo credit: Ken Lund)

As the growing list of expelled LSU administrators attests, there’s no doubt that Gov. Bobby Jindal controls the LSU System.

In recent months, his Board of Supervisors has fired: President John Lombardi, Health chief Fred Cerise, and the CEO of the LSU system‘s Health Care Services Division, Dr. Roxane Townsend. Jindal and his board have also chased off Chancellor Mike Martin, who made no secret of his disgust with the involvement of the governor’s office in LSU’s affairs. Then, came LSU General Counsel Ray Lamonica, forced to resign by Jindal’s LSU board appointees.

Other personnel changes are widely rumored. And, perhaps, still to come — the coup de grâce: the widely anticipated appointment of Stephen Moret, Jindal’s close friend and the Louisiana Economic Development secretary, as LSU’s president.

No doubt about it, Jindal is running LSU to his liking.

“So what?” you might ask. What’s the harm if the governor is intimately involved in LSU’s day-to-day affairs? Why should it matter if the LSU Board of Supervisors is not acting independently, but merely as Jindal’s rubber stamp? (Isn’t that what Huey Long gave us back in the 1930s?) Why does any of this matter?

One word: accreditation.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, at campaign e...
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Accreditation, as defined by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, “is a process of external quality review created and used by higher education to scrutinize colleges, universities and programs for quality assurance and quality improvement.”

More practically, the federal government uses accreditation to “assure the quality of institutions and programs for which the government provides federal aid to students.” Losing accreditation — or being deemed non-compliant in a major category — would be very harmful or even deadly for LSU and its budget. If it lost federal student aid, the university would not survive.

It so happens that LSU will undergo its re-accreditation review next year, a periodic re-evaluation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the regional body for accrediting degree-granting higher education institutions.

Among the major criteria for SACS accreditation is governance and administration of institutions free of undue political influence. Here is the relevant standard from the SACS “Principles of Accreditation.”

INSTITUTIONAL MISSION, GOVERNANCE, AND EFFECTIVENESS

3.2 Governance and Administration

3.2.4 The governing board is free from undue influence from political, religious, or other external bodies and protects the institution from such influence. (External influence)

Can anyone say with a straight face that LSU is in compliance with this standard?

One observer of the recent developments at LSU, The Chronicle of Higher Education, openly asked this question last May, well before the mass firings. John Lombardi’s dismissal alone was a development so shocking that the Chronicle reacted by publishing a story headlined, “Lombardi’s Firing at LSU Puts Spotlight on Governor’s Reach Into University Affairs.”

Reporter Jack Stripling noted that Lombardi’s supporters viewed the move “as the culmination of years of interference from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration.” Jindal’s aides denied undue influence in LSU affairs. But, as the Chronicle noted, “[B]oard members who tried to save Mr. Lombardi’s job describe a pattern of micromanagement by Mr. Jindal’s administration. One board member says that the Republican governor’s staff tried to strong-arm Mr. Lombardi into firing people, and others note Mr. Jindal’s undisputed influence on the appointment of one of his campaign fund raisers to a powerful university medical board.”

Add to that criticism the more-recent voice of former LSU board member Tony Falterman, who recently told the Baton Rouge Advocate, “Anybody says anything negative about what’s going on [at LSU]: well, coo-yon, that doesn’t happen. Not in Louisiana. Not with Bobby Jindal. Boop, you’re gone.”

Jindal, of course, isn’t the only governor in recent years to micromanage the affairs of his state’s universities. Last month, the Pew Charitable Trusts published a fascinating article in its publication, Stateline, headlined, “How Governors Govern Higher Ed.” Fortunately for Louisiana, Jindal wasn’t mentioned. Governors Rick Scott of Florida, Bob McDonnell of Virginia, Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania and Rick Perry of Texas were the major offenders in this story.

But Pew’s message was clear: All this meddling in the affairs of colleges and universities can put a school’s accreditation at risk.

Stateline cited examples, in Texas and Florida, of SACS warning governors that their meddling jeopardized accreditation. “I did write the governor and tell him to back off,” Belle Wheelan, the president of SACS Association on Colleges, said of Scott.

If you doubt that SACS would hold up LSU’s re-accreditation for its questionable political independence, look no further than north Baton Rouge, the site of Southern University. Late last year, SACS notified SU that it was investigating allegations of nepotism and improper micromanaging by the school’s Board of Supervisors.

Other than clearing the decks of opponents for his plan to privatize Louisiana’s public health care system, it’s not clear why Jindal wants to run LSU.

He seems to have little interest in strengthening its educational mission. He’s slashed its budget by an obscene amount (almost half a billion dollars in cuts for Louisiana higher education in the past three years). In that time, state appropriations as a percent of LSU’s budget have gone from 60 percent to about 35 percent. Ten percent of the faculty have left or been laid off. Courses have been cancelled. Class size has grown. Tuition has increased increased dramatically.

Jindal doesn’t care much about putting LSU on stronger financial footing and he has made no effort to explain his cuts to students or faculty.

What he may care about is the LSU jobs available to his friends and campaign donors. His history of favoritism in other state departments (not to mention his intolerance of dissent) is well known. Perhaps the only reason he hasn’t yet started stuffing LSU with friends and washed-up legislators is that he only recently acquired a strong majority of the LSU Board of Supervisors.

Now that Jindal is fully in charge — and has, in interim President Bill Jenkins, an eager and accommodating administrator — who knows what’s in store for the main campus?

Huey Long, as someone recently observed, might have had control of LSU, but at least he used his power to transform the university into an educational powerhouse. Jindal, it seems, has much lower and more-practical political ambitions.

With just a few years left in office, it’s time to start well-paying finding jobs for his friends and campaign contributors. Jindal’s “Jobs Plan for Friends” plan, however, assumes there’s a viable, accredited university still in existence.

With his continuing politicization of LSU, that’s no longer a given.

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4 thoughts on “So, Gov. Bobby Jindal is running LSU. Why should we care?

  1. Excellent observatons. This governor is the most dangerous governor in the history of Louisiana–and that includes Huey Long. He panders to his campaign contributors; he dances to the ALEC theme song of privatization; he tolerates no dissention; he has no respect for subordinates and worst of all, he is immature, egotistic and has no idea of what he’s doing–all the worst qualities for the leader of a state.

  2. Clothes or no, he’s still the emperor until enough leaders stand up to him…so what are we going to do about it?

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