Gov. Bobby Jindal’s sword has once again struck the state’s public universities. Last month, the Jindal administration announced a midyear higher education budget cut of $22 million. With this latest cut, the Jindal administration — aided and abetted by “our hands are tied” state legislators — has reduced university funding by $448 million since 2009. Wow!
How much further can the governor’s “cut and slash” policy towards the universities go before permanent harm is done to the state’s efforts to climb up from the nation’s bottom? To paraphrase Gov. Jindal, all actions taken by the state should be seen through a simple prism — will this (frequent university budget cuts) help Louisiana’s economy? New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently called the higher education cuts “the single biggest mistake in economic development in Louisiana.” Interestingly, Tim Teepel, a close adviser to Gov. Jindal, in an interview on WRKF Radio during the last legislative session said, “We can’t as a state continue to lag behind the rest of the nation.”
The performance of the state legislators throughout the governor’s assault on the university budgets has been pitiful. Based on press reports, at least some lawmakers seem to think that everything is all right at the universities as long as the “lights are on” and students are graduating. As a state, we have to be smarter than that.
Since the governor and legislators will not, who in the state with political influence will champion the cause of the universities? What role is the politically powerful Louisiana Board of Regents (the board that coordinates higher education policy) willing to play in helping the universities obtain better funding?
Apparently no role at all, based on the results of the Regents’ January meeting where the new chairman and vice chairman made two startling announcements: They first rejected Higher Education Commissioner Jim Purcell’s plea for help in securing more money for the universities and then they told their fellow members to quit complaining about the budget cuts. Unbelievable! Have the Regents forgotten whose interest they are sworn to serve?
What will be Gov. Jindal’s legacy to the state regarding higher education? Will it be the removal of all vestiges of quality from the universities, or will he finally fulfill the promises he made to the higher education community and to true believers like this writer when he ran for governor in 2007? Those who believe that Louisiana has never come close to reaching its vast potential expect the former but hope and pray for the latter.
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