By Robert Mann
National Republican leaders understand that they have a serious problem with minorities, gays and women. Their abysmal showing among those groups cost them the White House and control of the U.S. Senate in November’s elections.
And now they’re doing something about it.
At least, they want minorities and women to think they are doing something about it. And so GOP leaders have announced a $10 million outreach effort to the various groups and communities disaffected by the GOP, its policies and its messages.
“We know we have problems; we’ve identified them, and we’re implementing the solutions to fix them,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said last week. “It all goes back to what our moms used to tell us: It’s not just what we say, it’s how we say it. The promise of opportunity will be our message.”
Of course, it has nothing to do with the product. It’s all just a matter of packaging, right?
Just ask Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal who, after the November elections, offered a similar critique of the GOP’s woes.
“It is no secret we had a number of Republicans damage our brand this year with offensive, bizarre comments — enough of that,” Jindal told Politico reporter Jonathan Martin. “It’s not going to be the last time anyone says something stupid within our party, but it can’t be tolerated within our party. We’ve also had enough of this dumbed-down conservatism. We need to stop being simplistic, we need to trust the intelligence of the American people and we need to stop insulting the intelligence of the voters.”
A few weeks later, at January’s meeting of the RNC in Charlotte, Jindal elaborated, telling the party faithful, “We must treat all people as individuals rather than as members of special interest groups. The first step in getting the voters to like you is to demonstrate that you like them.”
For Jindal, that apparently means liking all the voters, as he explained in the Politico interview: “The Republican Party is going to fight for every single vote,” he said. “That means the 47 percent and the 53 percent, that means any other combination of numbers going up to 100 percent.”
Since Jindal raised the issue of numbers and percentages, I offer a few of my own that may suggest something about the importance he and his party assign to diversity.
Seventy-six is the number of spots on the five Louisiana higher education boards to which Jindal has installed his appointees in the past five-plus years (Regents, LSU, University of Louisiana, Southern University, and the Community and Technical College System).
Twenty is the number of black members on those boards, which might sound commendable until one considers that 14 of those serve on only one board – the Southern University Board of Supervisors, a historically black university.
The Board of Regents has one black member. The LSU board has one black member. The University of Louisiana board has one black member. The Community and Technical board has three black members.
Seven is the number of women serving on higher education boards in Louisiana. Regents has one; the University of Louisiana has one; Southern has two; the Community and Technical College board has two; LSU has one (who also happens to be its only black member).
It’s not as if diversity is optional, at least when Louisiana’s Constitution says that the state’s Board of Regents “should be representative of the state’s population by race and gender to ensure diversity.” Of the Community and Technical System board, the Constitution says the same. (I’m not sure why the Constitution lets the other boards off the hook.)
According to the latest U.S. Census figures, 32.4 percent of Louisiana’s population is black; 51.1 percent is female.
Overall, on the all the college boards combined, the percentage of black representation is 26 percent. That’s close to the state’s percentage.
It’s just that 70 percent of those individuals sit on one board.
Black representation on the Board of Regents, the LSU board and the University of Louisiana board is a dismal 6.6 percent each. On the Technical and Community College Board it’s 18 percent.
Overall, female representation on Louisiana’s higher education boards is a pitiful 9.2 percent.
And the Southern board is has its own distinct diversity issues, beyond having only one female member. Its membership is 93 percent black.
It’s not as if this diversity problem hasn’t been brought to Jindal’s attention.
In 2011, when the Associated Press noted that Jindal had assembled an all-white Board of Regents, the governor persuaded member Roland Toups to resign and quickly appointed Albert Sam, an African-American surgeon from Baton Rouge.
At about the same time, a group of Southern University students — opposed to a proposed merger of Southern University New Orleans with the University of New Orleans — filed suit in state court charging that the makeup of all-white Board of Regents violated the Constitution. A Baton Rouge judge rejected the students’ claim.
So, you may ask, what’s the big deal about diversity anyway? (I doubt you’d really ask that, unless you work in the Governor’s Office, but indulge me.)
For that answer, let us turn first to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) Commission on Colleges. When it comes to higher education, its views on these matters are quite important, as SACS is the body that accredits most Louisiana colleges and universities.
Here’s what SACS said, in part, in a June 2011 “Policy Statement”:
Diversity is reflected in the student body of an institution, as well as among the faculty, staff, administrators, trustees and other stakeholder groups. It is this exposure to a myriad of cultural backgrounds that enriches the learning and teaching experience. It is this person-centered aspect of education that introduces individuals to the broader society in which higher education operates—supporting sensitivity to such differences as culture, ethnicity, race, religion, international origin, student disabilities, and gender that are subject to the unique mission and culture of each institution.
Diversity is an asset to higher education; promoting diversity is a challenge. It challenges institutions to ensure equal access for equal participation (recruitment), to take measures to successfully teach (retention and graduation), to provide requisite academic support for all students, including those with disabilities, and to adapt teaching and learning styles to meet the needs of a diverse student body. It also presents some unique opportunities for teaching, learning, service, research, professional development and overall social, economic and intellectual growth.
There are other reasons why diversity is so important for Louisiana’s higher education boards.
It gives credibility to and confers legitimacy upon decisions made. It ensures a diversity of views, as well as diversity of gender and race. It increases the likelihood that oppressed or neglected segments of our society will not be forgotten when important policy and budget decisions are debated and voted upon. It also confers legitimacy on the institutional leaders hired by the board and should ensure greater diversity in hiring decisions.
The practical implication of the appalling lack of diversity in Louisiana’s higher education were on display this week when the LSU Board of Supervisors (14 white men and one black woman) voted unanimously to hire the lone finalist for president who emerged from a secretive and possibly illegal process.
A private search firm and members of a search committee reportedly interviewed 34 other candidates, the names of whom the board refuses to release, leading one to wonder about the real reason for all the secrecy. Is it that the candidate pool for the job of LSU president was made up entirely – or almost entirely – of white males?
It is any surprise, really, that a board that is 93 percent white male would emerge from a secret selection process to hire someone who looks exactly like them?
Is it safe to assume that if the LSU Board had five or six black members and an equal number of women that the candidate pool would have been more diverse?
Jindal, of course, isn’t the only Louisiana governor who has had problems with diversity. Louisiana’s higher education boards weren’t much more diverse under governors Kathleen Blanco and Mike Foster.
But Blanco and Foster aren’t running for president. And they aren’t lecturing their parties about the need to reach out more to minorities and women.
Blanco and Foster did not say, “The first step in getting the voters to like you is to demonstrate that you like them.”
That was Bobby Jindal.
Maybe Jindal’s party really isn’t all that serious about its outreach efforts. I’m very skeptical of the notion that blacks, Hispanics and women just don’t understand how much the Republican Party values them. I believe they know exactly how much they are valued by GOP politicians.
It’s not about the messaging; it’s about the results and the actions and the policies.
And it’s about who gets appointed to policy-making jobs.
So, if you really want to see how much Bobby Jindal and his party value women and blacks, you might start by looking at the composition of Louisiana’s higher education boards.
It’s as simple as 76, 20 and 7.
Postscript: Since this was first posted, The Advocate and the editor of LSU’s Daily Reveille have sued LSU in state court to open up the records of the presidential search.
- Don’t Feed the Bully: advice for dealing with Bobby Jindal (bobmannblog.com)
- Some straight talk for Bobby Jindal: Dude, you are not going to be president (bobmannblog.com)
- Lawmakers say Jindal trying to oust college leader (sfgate.com)
- Tigers For Jindal (dailykingfish.com)
- Bobby Jindal Is Governing Like It’s 2016 (realclearpolitics.com)
- Bobby Jindal chides Republicans’ ‘obsession with zeroes’ (news.in.msn.com)