Inside Report: LSU study seems dormant

Right now, there’s not a lot of talk coming out of LSU about how it can raise its national profile; or about how the university can remake itself into a research powerhouse; or about what steps LSU can take to become the globally competitive university that many people think it can be.

Right now, there’s almost no buzz at all about the entire LSU2015 project. It was supposed to be a massive effort a meeting of the minds that brought academics, business people, health care experts, agricultural researchers and financial gurus into the same room to map out how LSU could break away from the middle of the pack and join the U.S.’s upper echelons of higher education.

Instead, there’s mostly been silence.

State government has a long history of this.

When people in state government can’t easily resolve a problem, or if it’s decided that a certain institution needs to move in a different direction, the default thinking is to assemble an impressive group of people and commission a study.

From equal pay for women to drug testing scholarship winners, people in state government love studies.

Higher education is no different. In recent years, lawmakers have passed close to 60 study resolutions essentially ordering the Louisiana Board of Regents, the state’s higher education policy board, to study this issue or that at a total cost of more than $330,000.

Sometimes the studies are labor-intensive undertakings. In 2009, it was the Louisiana Postsecondary Education Review Commission, a group that spent months upon months coming up with ways to make higher education more cost-effective. In 2011, it was the 18-member Governance Commission that came up with 21 recommendations to reshape higher education in Louisiana and make it operate more smoothly.

The problem is, nothing much came of those efforts.

Barry Erwin, president of the nonprofit governmental lobbying group, Council for a Better Louisiana, is a veteran of state government studies. He explained the lack of action on these studies as apathy.

“A lot of the things that get recommended are hard and people don’t want to do that,” Erwin said. “So much of it is political and you have so many different constituent groups it’s hard to move things in a certain direction.”

So it’s not all that surprising that the LSU2015 effort has gone so cold after so much hype.

The effort involved more than 150 people spread out over six task force groups and five subcommittees. The group flew in more than a dozen experts from Boston, Washington, D.C., and other places to share their expertise and all members were asked to commit to six months to come up with a plan to transform LSU’s network of campuses into a more streamlined and less bureaucratic institution a true flagship university.

Baton Rouge consultant Christel Slaughter offered some insight into where the effort stands. Slaughter’s SSA Consultants ran the LSU2015 effort.

She said she’s heard rumors that the 100-plus page Transition Advisory Team report will be cast aside.

Slaughter said the lack of buzz at LSU could be a result of the university not yet filling a vacant public relations opening. She also said the board could be waiting for members of the advisory team to furnish them with a list of two dozen or so of the most pressing priorities and some kind of scorecard that will allow them to chart progress as the university takes on some of the recommendations.

But she also acknowledged that some of the more difficult and complex stuff might not get done at all.

“I think there are certain parts of the report that are very much wanted. Those parts will have a lot of backing; things that are hard will fall to the back burner,” she said.

Koran Addo covers higher education for The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. Contact him at kaddo@theadvocate.com.