Louisiana’s higher education leaders are finally fighting

Louisiana higher education leaders listen on Wednesday night as LSU student pose question about threatened budget cuts.

Louisiana higher education leaders listen on Wednesday night as LSU student pose question about threatened budget cuts.

By Robert Mann

Louisiana’s higher education leaders are finally fighting — and aggressively so — to stop the $608 million in proposed state budget cuts that would devastate their institutions.

At a forum on Wednesday night, sponsored by several LSU student groups at the Manship School’s Journalism Building, LSU President F. King Alexander and University of Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley were surprisingly blunt.

Joined by Jan Moller of the Louisiana Budget Project, the three panelists not only described the doomsday scenarios that await higher education if Gov. Bobby Jindal and legislators don’t raise taxes; they also prodded students to the kind of activism and protests that the state’s college campuses have rarely seen.

“Be annoying,” Alexander told the students. “Sometimes you don’t have to be so polite. This is the time you need to fight for your fellow students.”

Woodley urged students to remind legislators that “a tuition hike is a tax hike.” Like Alexander, she also encouraged students to storm the state Capitol. “They need to see your faces,” she said. “They need to hear from you. You need to let your voice be heard.”

Alexander went beyond vaguely urging student activism to giving students specific ideas. “I’d set up a report card and have a big press conference and I’d grade [legislators],” he said. “Grade them on their votes.”

Alexander said students must hold accountable those lawmakers who are unwilling to generate the revenue to save higher education. “They expect you to be graded,” he said. “Grade ’em back. They may not like an F, but they earned it.”

Both leaders painted a dire picture of what their institutions would look like if deep cuts materialize. “There will be institutions that lose accreditation,” Woodley said, adding that such budget cuts would send some of her system’s schools into a “death spiral.”

“We may not be opening in August.”

Alexander worried that students will soon be registering for fall classes that might not be available. LSU officials have said they could be forced to cancel more than 2,000 courses. “We’re talking about survival,” he said, adding, “We may not be opening in August.”

Asked by one student what kind of governor they are looking for in this year’s election year, Woodley was surprisingly direct. “I want leadership and courage,” she said. “The times calls for a different approach.”

Alexander said he wants a governor who recognizes that college students “are the greatest asset we have,” which he defined as “educated human capital.”

“You guys are not expenditures,” Alexander added, “you are investments.”

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17 Responses to Louisiana’s higher education leaders are finally fighting

  1. CJ says:

    Basically, “Yeah kids. Do the tough work for us.” Easy for a millionaire to say.

    I’m sure if they speak up the same guys who’ve been gutting higher ed budgets for at least five years will listen this time.


    • Robert Mann says:

      I’m sure you’re not suggesting students shouldn’t protest and that their voices, if loud enough, wouldn’t carry more weight than faculty and staff?


    • KB says:

      That’s not what they’re saying at all. The faculty and staff can only do so much, and besides, it’s not their education that’s being slowly destroyed, it’s the students. The faculty and staff suffer, but so do the students. The students should be out there with them. It’s THEIR university system too. It’s their programs, their equipment, their classes and their tuition that’s affected. Why shouldn’t they be out there protesting and fighting?

      And it’s not just the last 5 years that this has been going on, it’s, at the very least, the last 15.


  2. Andrew Sluyter says:

    That is good to hear. Christopher Newfield had an essay on Inside Higher Ed back in mid January that offers some explanations why more constituencies are rebelling against higher ed’s perma-austerity. In case any readers have not yet read it, here is a sample: “Although austerity theory still rules public colleges, three of its major players no longer project future benefit from following their scripted roles: cutting and squeezing (administration), political compliance (governing boards), and tolerance for higher tuition and debt (students). It has become clear to them that these austerity policies will never make things better.”


  3. earthmother says:

    Many of today’s college students are the grandchildren of the college students who protested the Vietnam War (and a few other issues, such as gender equality on campuses) and marched for civil rights. The great majority of demonstrations were peaceful, uneventful but attention-getting – and loud. They made people think, even if they did not agree with the cause. Today’s young people should repeat those peaceful demonstrations. A march to the state capitol to demand that legislators reverse course on the destruction of higher education in Louisiana would be a welcome sight.

    They should demand that legislators give them (and their parents who are helping to pay for their education) the same consideration that has been given to business interests during the jindal years. Who is more worthy of financial support – the universities that educate our students – our future taxpayers, leaders, today’s VOTERS – or wealthy out-of-state business interests?

    Students should repeat the actions of those heady days. Talk to their parents or grandparents about carrying signs on marches. Maybe they’ll even teach them protest songs. If I Had a Hammer…We Shall Overcome..A Change is Gonna Come.

    Oh, and a voter drive would be in order, The students are all old enough to vote.


  4. james d. kirylo says:

    yes, it is good that students rally in full force, and yes, it is good better late than never that higher education administrative leaders find a backbone to pushback…but, it would be also good for higher education administrative leaders to apologize to faculty and all those who make the university daily function for their years of silence, for them to be permissive in seeing good faculty flee the state; to apologize to those in higher education who are living on near poverty wages over the years; to apologize for being part of the problem for not systematically pushing back over the years, allowing many of our programs to be dropped and others to simply hang by a thread; to apologize for being supportive of continued tax hikes (tuition increases) for students, many of whom have been forced to drop out of school…


  5. Leslie Turk says:

    It’s about damn time, don’t you think? (BTW, the word surprisingly is misspelled in second paragraph.)

    Leslie Turk | Editorial Director IND MEDIA IND MONTHLY | THE INDSIDER | ABIZ | ABUZZ INDEVENTS | CUSTOM PUBLISHING http://www.theind.com 551 Jefferson Street, Lafayette, LA 70501 | Direct 337-769-8606 | Cell 337-207-4312 | Fax 337-983-0150 ________________________________


  6. Balancing the budget on the backs of students instead of raising taxes on those of us who work is simply immoral. Grandstanding about “never raising taxes” and genuflecting to Grover Norquist by Louisiana’s elected officials is some of the most shameful behavior to ever come out of Baton Rouge.

    People who are loyal to their national political party affiliations are traitors to the Louisiana citizens they are elected to serve. If they don’t want to represent those of us who are cursed to live in their districts, let them find a real job and beg for their money somewhere else. After all, politicians are now fulltime beggars for campaign funds and have lost their ordinary work ethic.

    I mean, really. Expecting children to pay more so that working adults receive welfare we don’t need or want is shameful.


  7. Mel Lamp says:

    I graduated long ago and love the school, but know the tendencies of big enterprises.

    Showing an 8 million reduction, while the following article touts a 16 million refurbish


    Cajundome bonding (borrowing) 16 million… It is always about more….


  8. ulyankee says:

    The Council of Student Government Association Presidents is organizing a protest on April 15 and they are promoting it among student bodies statewide. They also have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/No-Funds-No-Future/355737377945530

    About bleeping time. I was starting to get really discouraged that so few of us in higher ed are out there speaking out with hardly a peep from administrators, faculty and students alike. I sincerely hope that is changing because we need to step up, speak out, and not give in.

    I plan on going. I’ll take leave. If my leave is denied, I’ll take unpaid leave. If my unpaid leave is denied, I’m just going to go whether or not I have a job to come back to when I return.


  9. tet15 says:

    Reblogged this on The Broken Muse and commented:
    It’s a start. Well, my department head stressed that we do the complete opposite. Yay.


  10. Matthew Walton says:

    While protesting is absolutely a right, and if done respectfully can be productive, Higher Ed leaders in Louisiana need to acknowledge that our system is overbuilt, and creates little fiefdoms in every corner of the state. Legislators are usually not willing to even condone discussion of right-sizing, as it would mean that some of them would have to close or reduce the size and scope of campuses in their districts. The current fiscal crisis may be a backhanded opportunity to accomplish what there has been little stomach to face in the past, if leaders can lead with both integrity and intestinal fortitude.

    In addition, I respectfully disagree with Mrs. Woodley, increases in the price of tuition are no more “tax hikes” than are increases in the price of any other commodity, be it milk, or pickup trucks, or day care, and it is fundamentally disingenuous to characterize them as such.


    • ulyankee says:

      You have a valid point about the number of institutions, and this is one that Bob Mann has addressed here and this has been discussed going back to the days of the Higher Ed Desegregation Agreement that many thought kept too many institutions open for the system to be sustainable long term after the agreement expired.

      However, I disagree with you on two points:

      1. The situation we are in was predictable (I said this was going to happen back in 2010) and I contend may have been engineered precisely to force higher ed to agree to close, merge or privatize institutions in order to save itself. The reason why I believe this is because of the impact on enrollment which is a key part of the funding picture. The GRAD Act provision against universities teaching developmental education and the corollary admission standards left the regional universities (which collectively enroll half our students) with a discrete market of just 4% of all college-bound students. The actual impact was softened because of a temporary program, the Developmental Education Pilot, but that program is TEMPORARY and if it is dropped, the bottom drops out of the regionals’ freshman enrollment. This means that all the universities are competing with each other for not just a limited pool of resources, but for the exact same students. You would think that the result would be that more students would go to the two year schools but what has actually happened is that even though Louisiana has been graduating significantly more students every year, new student enrollment overall is not increasing. We are bleeding students. More and more of our state graduates are either going out of state, to private/proprietary schools, or in many cases, NO WHERE. But the students are there for us to enroll. So the issue isn’t really whether we should or shouldn’t be closing institutions, BUT that we are being forced to consider it because we have been backed into a corner, rather than because it is the right thing for higher ed or for Louisiana.

      2. Jindal himself considers tuition “state funding.” For every tuition increase, we have been cut as much (if not more) in state appropriations. So in this environment it isn’t disingenous at all unless you think that Jindal’s revenue-neutral policy is in itself disingenuous. That wasn’t Woodley’s making but Jindal’s


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