Folly to Foster tops higher ed
This week a private citizen promised he would find about $30,000 to pay for basic maintenance and thereby end the Grambling State University football team’s mutiny, and Gov. Bobby Jindal delivered nearly $2 million in taxpayer dollars to house the personal papers of his mentor, former Gov. Mike Foster, in a first-of-its-kind archives.
The situation might lend itself to the “Really!?!” segment of the “Weekend News Update” on “Saturday Night Live.”
Jindal last week visited Franklin to announce the build-out of a facility that would “celebrate the incredible work of Gov. Foster,” which was mostly improving the economic situation for higher education during his 1996 to 2004 tenure. The next day, Grambling President Frank Pogue appeared before the University of Louisiana System board to explain to his bosses why Baton Rouge businessman Jim Bernhard had to get involved with making fundamental repairs in the football locker rooms on the northeast Louisiana campus.
“Grambling has insufficient funds to do what Grambling needs to do,” Pogue said.
A few years ago, when Eddie Robinson was the second winningest coach in college history, football was what made Grambling famous nationally. These days, the weight room has gaps in the floors, and some players picked up staph infections from improperly washed uniforms.
Pogue blamed a cutback on federal monies for historically black colleges and universities. He placed most of the fault, however, on a 57 percent cut in state funding for Grambling. The cutback was part of Jindal stripping about $690 million in state funding for public higher education institutions.
Additionally, out of the very same state construction budget from which Jindal elevated the Foster archives, the governor set aside the Louisiana Legislature’s $76 million that was to help address persistent maintenance issues on Louisiana campuses.
Jindal and his aides counter that tuition increases should offset budget cuts, and that millions already have been poured into university repairs and construction.
Few other states use taxpayers’ dollars to celebrate their former governors with museums and archives. In Texas, for instance, the only tourist attraction for a former governor, apart from the Jim Hogg RV Park, is for Dan Moody, a 1920s governor, according to that state’s tourism website. And apparently that exists because Moody’s relatives left $600,000 and his Taylor, Texas, house to the town’s library.
Previous Louisiana governors — Kathleen Blanco, Edwin Edwards and Dave Treen — sent their records to the State Archives, where they are sorted by categories. For the most part, Huey Long’s papers are at LSU. And the letters, diaries and other papers of other old guys, like William C.C. Claiborne, Louisiana’s first American governor, are at Tulane University.
The Center on the American Governor at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey in Newark, compiles a list of locations for the papers of governors around the country to help researchers find the historic primary source materials of “gubernatorial decision-making.” Not only is there no uniformity in how states collect and maintain gubernatorial papers, but even in states where standards exist, the rules are applied inconsistently.
Listed as “Renovation Old Crowell Elementary Building,” the $1.8 million Foster archives project is part of a bigger effort to turn a school building from the 1920s into municipal offices. The money goes to fixing walls and floors and buying exhibit cases for the archives on the third floor.
It took about a year to win approval for the Foster archives appropriation, which is a micro-second in capital outlay time. For instance, a group of legislators has spent the last 13 years fruitlessly trying to fund a Louisiana Civil Rights Museum in New Orleans.
“The funding train doesn’t stop very often in Franklin, so why shouldn’t we take the money?” said state Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, an endorser of the request.
Franklin Mayor Raymond Harris said that in addition to Foster’s archives, the third-floor repository will display memorabilia of other statewide elected officials from the town of 7,500 people along the banks of Bayou Teche.
“The archive is expected to benefit the area’s tourism industry,” according to the official paperwork. Much of Franklin’s tourism seems to revolve around Cypress Bayou, the Chitimacha Tribe casino resort in nearby Charenton. But Harris says, “Some people may come for the casino, but Franklin stands on its own.”
Harris said he has no idea how the archives-museum will be staffed or how the attraction will operate. Nor does he have any studies to estimate how many people might visit.
“It’s the first of its kind, so (we) really don’t have any idea, yet,” Harris said. “We haven’t gotten that far in our discussions yet. All we know for sure is we’re going to renovate the third floor.”
Mark Ballard is editor of The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is email@example.com