Private donors who spent large sums of money to attract “rock star” professors to Louisiana’s colleges won’t likely be seeing the agreed-upon matching funds from the state anytime soon.
The state’s higher education governing body brushed aside two proposals that would have addressed a backlog of 348 unmatched endowed professorships spread across 20 public and private campuses.
The first proposal, developed by state staffers earlier this month, would have closed the funding gap in 20 years. A second idea, from a consortium of private donors, would build on the first plan, adding increased incremental payments, and would close the gap in 12 years.
Regents did not support the first plan.
The second proposal, which wasn’t voted on by the regents, provoked a strong response from State Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell, who suggested the private donors were being too pushy. “We’ve listened to you. The collective came up with a recommendation, now you’ve come back with another thing,” Purcell said.
LSU Foundation President Lee Griffin responded, saying his group was trying to be “responsible” to the donors who were promised their gifts would be matched.
“Sorry if we’re being a nuisance to you,” Griffin said.
The Board of Regents Endowed Professorship Program, established in 1991, sets aside $40,000 in matching funds for every $60,000 private donation.
Endowed professorships are generally a way for universities to raise their profile while also attracting students by bringing in well-known or highly respected faculty.
Since the program’s start, the regents and the state have paired up to fund more than 2,300 professorships at salaries of $100,000 each on 39 campuses.
According to the regents, funding for the program between 1997 and 2008 was “bountiful.”
After 2008, however, “the period of harvest has been replaced by one of scarcity,” regents staffers wrote in a report.
The state has yet to contribute about $13.9 million to match more than $20.8 million in private donations, according to a network of private donors.
Regents staff on Wednesday presented their plan that would close the funding gap by 2033 while moving the program from its current form into a competitive award format.
The plan calls for the regents to devote $1.6 million per year at all campuses with the exception of LSU starting this year and running through the 2017 fiscal year. The regents would address the remaining backlog at LSU — 147 professorships — by setting aside $400,000 per year between the 2018 and 2033 fiscal years, according to the plan.
The private donor plan would maintain the annual $1.6 million funding while adding a $2,000 supplement to campuses for each unmatched professorship.
Griffin said their plan would resolve the backlog at most colleges within five years and all universities except LSU’s Baton Rouge campus within seven years.
LSU’s backlog of 185 unmatched professorships would be eliminated after 12 years, Griffin said.
“Donors were told there would be a state match. They expect it. We have made a commitment to people. We feel we have to find a way to comply,” Griffin said.
Regent Robert Bruno, of Covington, said that because the state isn’t contractually obligated to match the private funds, the issue is a question of morality.
Regent Charlotte Bollinger, of Lockport, suggested Griffin and others go back to donors and either ask them pay the full $100,000 amount or petition the Legislature to pay the balance.
“You won’t get all the donors to agree, but some would,” Bollinger said. “We need a new model. To depend or expect the state will put up with this kind of match ... we have to forget it.”
LSU Faculty Senate President Kevin Cope described endowed professorships as “artifacts.”
They are useful when colleges are being formed because they can raise an institution’s profile. But at an established school, they can create a sense of “unfairness and demoralization” among faculty who have to share work space with endowed professors who have significantly higher salaries, Cope said.
“I’m not saying endowed professors haven’t earned what they’ve achieved, but some of these stars made their advancements with the help of other faculty members,” Cope added.
Faculty positions at colleges are competitive enough at the moment that most professors are considered “stars” in their fields, Cope said.
Thomas Miller, Faculty Senate president at Southern University, had a different take. He described endowed professorships as important to keep schools competitive.
“They are a mechanism to attract students to certain programs. Strategically speaking, they are very important,” Miller said. “If we were to lose this tool, it’ll be one more thing that makes us less competitive.”