LSU has apparently succeeded in keeping its football coach in place, but a number of the top people in charge of advancing the university’s academic mission have recently left for other jobs.
That makes us wonder what LSU might be like if the university’s supporters paid as much attention to academics as athletics.
LSU and football coach Les Miles recently agreed to a new seven-year contract that will include a pay raise. Miles’ current salary averages about $3.75 million per year. The announcement of a pay raise and contract extension for Miles came amid speculation that he was being considered as the next football coach at the University of Arkansas.
Since the beginning of the year, the voluntary departures at LSU include chancellor Mike Martin, along with the College of Science dean, the business school dean and the chief financial officer.
Martin, who left to lead the Colorado State University System, said that he’s been asked by several people who still work at LSU for references they can use in seeking other jobs.
“There’s always going to be people leaving, but what we’re seeing at LSU is people making lots of lateral moves,” Martin said. “The image of Louisiana among higher ed folks is of a state still struggling. It makes Louisiana vulnerable. I hope people choose to stay because LSU really is a fine institution.”
William Jenkins, interim LSU system president and interim chancellor of LSU’s Baton Rouge campus, said he could think of nine or 10 research faculty who left LSU recently, taking with them as much as $16 million in research grants.
Years of budget cuts have dealt LSU and other public universities in Louisiana a double-whammy when it comes to retaining and attracting faculty. The budget cuts diminish the ability of faculty members and administrators to increase their salaries, and the cuts also limit a university’s ability to provide the facilities needed to compete with peer institutions elsewhere.
The athletic program that pays Miles’ lucrative salary is self-sustaining, funded by tickets sales and other sources of revenue that are separate from LSU’s other budget. In fact, LSU’s athletic program uses some of the money it generates to help fund the university’s academic mission.
But the public worry over Miles’ possible departure is a striking contrast with the apparent ambivalence among LSU’s supporters about the exodus of so many experienced, talented people elsewhere in the university.
Many football fans here have long accepted the idea that a competitive, high-quality athletic program requires spending lots of money.
But as a state, we don’t seem to understand that a university’s primary missions — education and research — need consistent and unstinting financial support, too.
Until we realize that, LSU will continue to be known for football — and for sending many of its best and brightest academic talents to live and work somewhere else.
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