By Robert Mann
In his 1976 book about the Middle East conflict, “To Jerusalem and Back,” novelist Saul Bellow meditated on the seduction of self-delusion. “A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance,” Bellow wrote, “when the need for illusion is deep.”
That’s a universal truth that also applies to Louisiana’s budget crisis, which many Republican lawmakers pretend can be solved almost entirely with budget cuts. The illusionists were in high dudgeon this past week, as lawmakers gathered for a special fiscal session. Among the illusions they tried to sell us:
Closing or consolidating a few universities will save the state big money.Whether the state should consolidate or close some universities is a valid question and one that the Board of Regents and some legislators have long discussed. The evidence from other states, however, suggests that merging universities won’t save much.
If not merge, shouldn’t we close some colleges and require students to attend other state schools? Sorry. Closing a university – or two or three – won’t fix the current budget mess or even next year’s. Last fiscal year, for example, Nicholls State University in Thibodaux received $16 million in state appropriations. That represents less than 1 percent of next year’s $2 billion shortfall.
What if we closed and merged some universities? We could “save” $85 million in state appropriations by closing Nicholls, Grambling State ($14.8 million in state appropriations), Northwestern State ($21.6 million) and UNO ($32.7 million). Unfortunately, that’s merely 4.25 percent of next year’s shortfall.
In fact, if the state shuttered all 10 universities in the University of Louisiana (UL) System, the state would save about $240 million in direct appropriations. Put another way, those institutions’ state funding is equal to 12 percent of next year’s anticipated shortfall. The truth is, the state has already cut deeply higher education. Legislators have slashed appropriations to the UL system by 55 percent since 2009, forcing schools to sharply increase fees and tuition.
Talking about the potential damage of budget cuts is counterproductive and scares people. Some legislators grew angry when higher education officials shared the impact of potential budget cuts to their institutions. Senate Education Committee member Conrad Appel was particularly miffed by talk of temporarily closing universities. “Is it fair to tell the public that we’re seriously considering closing schools?” Appel asked, after reports that budget cuts might force Nicholls State to close.
In other words, he seemed to say, “Can we stop talking about the potential consequences of our decisions? It’s difficult for us when voters are well informed.” Do Appel and his colleagues suppose that Louisiana’s college students are so ignorant that they haven’t noticed the damage that he, his colleagues and former Gov. Bobby Jindal did to higher education?
Continue reading on NOLA.com at this link.