Something Like the Truth

The LSU Board must go


By Robert Mann

Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards will not have the power to fire members of the LSU Board of Supervisors when he takes office in January. The board’s 14 members (all but one extra student member are appointed by the governor) serve staggered, fixed terms.

But that doesn’t mean they should remain in their positions once Edwards becomes governor.

The current board has completely failed the state, the school and its students.

It never defended the school against Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget cuts that almost devastated the institution. Its members slavishly did Jindal’s bidding at every turn, including approving a contract with dozens of blank pages when turning over the system’s charity hospital in Shreveport to a private foundation chaired by a then-LSU Board member. The results of that irresponsible decision proved politically disastrous, sparking an ugly fight between Jindal’s board and the foundation running the hospitial.

The LSU Board has failed the state so completely that Edwards should ask members to do the decent thing and resign en masse on Jan. 11.

Edwards cannot legally fire state Education Superintendent John White. He’s hired by the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Eduction (BESE). That, however, has not stopped the governor-elect from demanding White’s dismissal or resignation.

He should demand the same of the LSU Board.

Here is what I wrote back in March. I stand by every word.

Next January, after taking his oath of office and calling a special session to clean up Gov. Bobby Jindal’s fiscal mess, our next governor should immediately demand the resignation of every member of the LSU Board of Supervisors.

Appointed by Jindal, the current board not only is unrepresentative of the state (14 wealthy white men and one black woman); its members also abdicated their duty to protect the school. They were silent as mice as Jindal pillaged LSU’s budget.

Like state Education Superintendent John White and some courageous members of the state’s Board of Elementary & Secondary Education, they could have protested Jindal’s misguided policies or publicly challenged his destructive acts. They might have threatened to resign in unison. They did none of that — and for their unforgivable omissions, they should go. All of them.

President F. King Alexander has waged a valiant fight for LSU’s future, as have University of Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley and some other college leaders. Alexander also has rightly prodded students to protest the threatened $600 million in higher education budget cuts. “Sometimes you don’t have to be so polite,” he told students earlier this month.

This past week at the Baton Rouge Press Club, Alexander repeated that admonition. So I tossed out this notion to him: It’s good for students to lobby legislators, many who are finally willing to raise taxes for higher education but whose legislation Jindal will probably veto. You have 15 bosses (the LSU board) who are close to Jindal. Why don’t they stop being so subservient and urge the governor to do more for higher education?

In response, Alexander shared an astonishing story that underscores my argument that this group must go. Alexander said that after he described the dire budgetary situation at the board’s January meeting, some alarmed members sought an appointment with Jindal. An LSU spokesperson told me that board members Ann Duplessis, James Moore, Raymond Lasseigne, Rolfe McCollister and Blake Chatelain joined Alexander for a meeting with Jindal on Feb. 4.

On its face, that’s a positive development. But step back for a moment and consider this disturbing scene: After five years of deep, damaging cuts, these board members apparently did not understand the serious threat to the university until Alexander made what one reporter described as an “impassioned speech — detailing the threat with campuses facing 40 percent reductions in state funding.”

Do they read the papers? Did they assume that Jindal also does not keep abreast of the news? I’m glad they privately urged Jindal to stop the cuts, but aren’t they five years too late? Speaking of little and late, good luck finding any LSU board member who has publicly condemned the looming demolition of Louisiana higher education.

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