Letter: ‘Flagship’ must be protected

The LSU main campus in Baton Rouge claimed title to “flagship” of higher education in the state in the course of conversation with Jim Wharton in his office while he was chancellor. Coined casually in passing, the term caught on and is widely used. I was there when the conversation occurred.

“Flagship” means that the core university, its faculty and students, constitute the best of higher learning in our state. We show the way in multiple disciplines from engineering and biology to history, English, political science, geography-anthropology, and to such specialized fields as library science on one hand and to mathematics and the range of natural sciences on the other.

Devotion to the “higher learning” means that the chief business of LSU is study, research and communication of findings in the classrooms and through publications and other media. LSU is not like Exxon, which produces products for sale, or even Price LeBlanc Toyota, which sells tangibles for profit. It also is not a trade school or a community college.

It has some practical applications, but its stature and unique character derive primarily from the intellectual work of individual scholars and teachers who compose “the university.” It is a place where books are studied and science is done as aspects of its unique role and calling of discovering and communicating knowledge.

All of this work is done at the departmental level, let it be stressed. Thus, upper administration is a superstructure intended to facilitate (not impede) the work of the departments and the individual faculty members composing them — above all, it is not a sinecure for careerists attracted by the big bucks nor a haven for an expansive idle bureaucracy making ever-greater demands for reports and paperwork. Economies can be made here rather than in mindless faculty pay cuts, for instance, which now fairly bid destruction of decades of development at a university plainly in crisis.

I would fervently hope that the talented task force now engaged in their very difficult task of fostering in hard times the flagship as an institution and vital activity will be humbly attentive to the unique nature of the enterprise they are charged with preserving, rescuing and protecting for the citizens of Louisiana.

Ellis Sandoz

professor of political science

Baton Rouge