Our Views: Policy should trump politics

In publicly complaining about Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget policies, Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell is breaking a taboo.

Louisiana’s higher education officials typically greet Jindal’s austere proposals for higher education funding with resignation and reticence, apparently hoping that their relative silence will help avoid the governor’s wrath.

Because of his criticism of the governor’s ideas for funding higher education, Purcell’s job might be in jeopardy. Several Republican lawmakers recently charged that Jindal’s staff has been lobbying members of the Board of Regents, which hires and fires higher education commissioners, about having Purcell removed from office.

No one in the governor’s office has said that they are trying to have Purcell fired, and Purcell said that no one in the governor’s office had directly threatened him about losing his job. Clinton “Bubba” Rasberry, who chairs the Board of Regents, said that although the governor’s displeasure with Purcell is public knowledge, Rasberry was not aware of any push to have Purcell fired.

Beyond any political intrigue concerning Purcell’s relationship with the governor, this dispute raises serious policy concerns about higher education funding that deserve thoughtful debate.

Purcell has complained that the Jindal administration’s heavy use of one-time funds and contingency money creates serious uncertainty, making it more difficult for colleges and universities to hire staff, negotiate teaching contracts and manage their campuses.

Several members of the Jindal administration have suggested that higher education would be in much worse financial shape without the use of such funding strategies.

But Louisiana needs more options besides bad and worse when it comes to funding higher education. Those options have been greatly limited by decisions by the governor and the Legislature to support tax polices that have hurt the state’s ability to adequately fund public colleges and universities.

In expressing concern about the shaky expedients now governing state support for higher education, Purcell has given state leaders an important message.

Any attempts to punish the messenger won’t change the fundamental reality behind the message itself.