What does it say when the following is the good news: “LSU avoids staff layoffs.”
That headline says a lot about how off-track Louisiana has become in higher education, and in state policy.
In response to yet more cuts mandated by Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature — the fifth time major cuts have been ordered since 2008 — some of LSU’s academic units will absorb cuts and reductions in services, such as fewer courses for students to choose from, and sometimes larger classes.
It is not simply an LSU problem: Colleges and universities across the state will be going through similar exercises in the next few weeks as they finalize their plans to cope with a $66 million reduction in state funding handed down by Louisiana legislators in early June as part of the state’s $26.5 billion operating budget.
The toll of the Jindal administration on higher education is in the hundreds of millions. Some of that has been offset by tuition increases, a sort of a tax increase that the governor embraces.
The LSU cuts would be worse, Chancellor Mike Martin told students and faculty, but for a $5.5 million gift from the university’s athletic department.
If legislators want to talk about one-time money, this is a perfect example: We hope for continued success of LSU athletics as much as anybody, but this is a case of using money that varies from year to year, depending on LSU’s fortunes on the athletic field and resulting TV contracts. The money is nice, now, but may not be there next year.
It’s a perfect example of the kind of scraping by that is particularly disturbing in the case of the state’s flagship institution of higher learning. LSU’s mission should be to achieve national and international stature, not be hobbled by short-sighted funding decisions made at the State Capitol.
For decades, states like North Carolina and Texas invested in their colleges, and reaped enormous benefits. Only in the past two decades, before Jindal’s accession, have we seen Louisiana make up its deficits in higher education funding. And now that progress has been halted.