The best way to prevent abuses in a Tulane scholarship program overseen by the Louisiana Legislature is to give the public a clear view of how the scholarships are awarded.
Instead, members of the Legislature, through one of their designated bureaucrats, are keeping the public in the dark about how the program operates. That’s an invitation to corruption and abuse, and a slap in the face to the constituents whom lawmakers are supposed to serve.
Through a longstanding arrangement, each lawmaker is allowed to give a one-year scholarship to Tulane each year to a lucky recipient — an award worth $43,150 annually. Many lawmakers award a scholarship to the same recipient for four years, enabling the student to get a tuition-free education. That’s a valuable asset that lawmakers have often used to reward friends, family members and politically connected associates. Revelations of these abuses in the 1990s led to changes in how the program is administered. Lawmakers are now barred from giving the scholarships to direct family members, though they’re not prevented from awarding the scholarships to relatives of other politicians. But in a nod to reform, Tulane officials created a form that all scholarship applicants must complete. The form requires applicants to disclose whether they are related to elected officials. Applicants must sign a waiver of confidentiality regarding the application. Presumably, that puts applicants on notice that the application is subject to public scrutiny, which is the best safeguard against abuse.
But incredibly, Alfred “Butch” Speer, the clerk of the state House of Representatives, has refused to make the applications public. Speer, who said he was also speaking for state Senate secretary Glenn Koepp, declined to release the records after they were requested by The Advocate, WWL-TV and Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
Although Speer has emerged as the designated point man on this issue, we’re appalled that any lawmaker would hide behind the evasions of an unelected bureaucrat in shielding from view information about an important matter of public policy. Voters should expect each lawmaker to release the application forms for those to whom they awarded a scholarship.
Keeping these records secret negates the intent of the reforms put in place a generation ago to curb the favoritism and influence-peddling that made the Tulane scholarship program a national embarrassment.
Lawmakers should release these documents immediately. As more than one government watchdog has noted, if the Tulane scholarship program is following the rules, then what do officials have to hide?