Inside Report for Nov. 30, 2012

If the people running LSU weren’t worried before about the number of departures they’ve had recently, the news that Chief Financial Officer Eric Monday is leaving should snap them out of the haze.

Since the beginning of the year, LSU has lost its system president, Baton Rouge chancellor, College of Science dean, business school dean and now its CFO.

Excluding the firing of former System President John Lombardi, the departures have been voluntary.

But Monday’s upcoming departure to the University of Kentucky should be especially troubling. This is a former student body president who has earned two degrees at LSU and is currently working on a third. He began his first job at the university in 1997, the year after he graduated, and has since risen through the ranks taking on eight different administrative positions before becoming CFO two years ago.

Monday didn’t return a call requesting comment, but it’s probably safe to assume that he’s a guy who loves LSU. And since Monday’s $350,000 salary in Lexington will be $96,000 more than he is making in Baton Rouge, he probably should be taken at his word when he said in a prepared statement that leaving is in the best interest of his family.

Shortly before LSU Chancellor Michael Martin left to lead the Colorado State University System in August, he acknowledged that continued budget cuts wore him out, even if they didn’t directly lead to his departure.

Instead, Martin said Louisiana’s dire financial outlook likely led other states to start pursuing him.

“The jobs came looking for me,” Martin said.

And that should be troubling for everyone in Louisiana’s higher education system.

Barry Erwin, head of the Council for A Better Louisiana, which lobbies on public policy, said a handful of people leaving “isn’t necessarily cause for alarm, but is a clear sign of how fluid things are in higher education.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature have cut more than $420 million from higher education since 2008 to balance state budgets.

Erwin said Louisiana’s inability to “protect” higher education amid budget difficulties the way other states have has led to a culture where people are looking for more security.

“We just got word about a week ago that there are more going to be more budget cuts next year. People have figured out that it’s going to fall on higher education and they’re going to do what’s in their best interest,” Erwin said. “And I don’t see it getting better. … People looking for opportunities in higher ed probably aren’t going to look in Louisiana.”

Nicole Baute Honorée, the LSU system’s director of research and economic development initiatives, said repeated budget cuts directly affect a university’s ability to grow or sustain success. Louisiana will feel it eventually in the loss of inventions, entrepreneurs and economic development, she said.

Honorée said that the LSU system has eliminated 262 faculty positions during the past five years. The College of Sciences recently lost eight faculty members, including one person who was key in helping LSU get a $20 million research grant.

The Pennington Biomedical Research Center recently lost three faculty members to competitors and LSU’s Medical School in New Orleans is looking for people to lead five different academic departments.

Additionally, LSU has fallen 10 spots — from 48th to 58th — over the past five years in the National Science Foundation rankings.

“Universities are in a fierce global competition for the talented people necessary to build knowledge through research,” Honorée said. “When we lose these people to other, more-competitive places, we fall further behind in the knowledge business.”

Koran Addo covers higher education for The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is kaddo@theadvocate.com.