The unbearable whiteness of being on Bobby Jindal’s higher education boards

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By Robert Mann

Here’s a question that every candidate for Louisiana governor ought to answer in a public forum in the next week or two. It’s a simple question, so suggesting that they need time for study or contemplation should be viewed as a cowardly evasion.

As governor, will you promise that your appointments to Louisiana’s higher education boards will be made with the goal of creating a racially and gender-diverse membership?

In other words, will you end Gov. Bobby Jindal’s troubling practice of creating boards (with the exception of the Southern University board) that are almost exclusively domains of white males?

While we are at it, here are other questions they should answer: Will you follow the mandates of the state constitution, which requires you to appoint a diverse membership for the Board of Regents and the Technical and Community Colleges System board? And will you support amending the constitution to require racial and gender diversity for the LSU, UL and Southern systems’ boards?

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Currently, out of the 75 board members Jindal has appointed to the five higher education boards, only eight are female (10.6 percent) and 19 (25 percent) are black. Fourteen of those black board members come from one board (you guessed it, the Southern board). There are only five black members among the 60 members on the other four boards. That is 8 percent in a state in which 32 percent of citizens are black.

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The LSU Board has one black member and one female member. And they are the same person (former state Sen. Ann Duplessis, the current board chair).

The Southern Board is just as diversity challenged as the LSU Board. It has one white member and one female member (they are not the same person).

Louisiana higher education’s governance is a disgrace for several reasons.

First, Jindal has stacked his boards with a collection of spineless toadies, political cronies and campaign contributors. The members of those boards almost never speak up publicly about the damage of Jindal’s budget cuts to higher education. Fearful of Jindal’s wrath, they remain silent as Jindal and the Legislature dismantle their institutions. It’s a shameful dereliction of their duties. One day, their children and grandchildren will be embarrassed to acknowledged that they even knew someone who served on these boards during Jindal’s tenure.

Second, the people running higher education in this state (with the exception of predominantly black Southern University) state are almost exclusively white males. Even including Southern, the people who run higher education this state are almost exclusively male.

Higher education needs diversity at all levels. It’s not just about gender and racial balance for the sake of gender and race; it’s about the need for diversity of viewpoints, political affiliations, incomes, ethnic backgrounds, age groups, etc.

“Thriving leaders are the ones surrounded by diverse people from different generations,” Jon Mertz, a prominent corporate leadership scholar, has written. Or, as writer and poet A.J. Darkholme has observed, “No army is comprised of all the same kinds of units or types of troops. There is power in diversity. If you always see only one choice, or use only one option, you will surely lose more than you win.”

If you want people to support and carry out decisions handed down to them from above, without question or challenge, you would aim for the kind of boards Jindal has assembled in his seven years as governor.

If, however, you wanted responsible, enlightened governance of these institutions, and if you valued the rich diversity of this state and wished to put it to work for the good of college students, you wouldn’t appoint mostly rich, old white men to run Louisiana higher education.

A governor who really cared about and celebrated the state’s diversity would appoint different types of people to run the boards and commissions of the state (higher education is only one of many areas of state government that is diversity challenged).

Sadly, under Jindal, Louisiana’s higher education boards are no-zones for black people and women.

How would the candidates for governor change this? Let’s start asking them.

Note: If you would like to see for yourself the collection of mostly older white men Jindal has appointed to run Louisiana higher education, you can review the boards’ membership at these links:

Regents Board

LSU Board

UL Board

LCTCS Board

Southern Board

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