Letter: Education shouldn’t be run like a business

House Bills 588 and 696, sponsored by Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, propose to reform the manner in which members of Louisiana’s higher education boards are selected. This bill ignites a debate about the state’s future that is long overdue.

In its current form, these bills would limit the governor’s discretion with respect to his/her appointments to the boards. It would require a certain number of them to have significant experience in corporate leadership, public sector management and budgetary expertise as prerequisites for membership. Organizations such as the Council for a Better Louisiana and the Louisiana Association for Business and Industry would have the opportunity to submit nominees to the boards.

These ideas are a good start. For far too long, the higher education boards have been seen as the political playground for the state’s politicians. Governors routinely have appointed people to the boards who have no business serving on anyone’s board — much less one involving colleges and universities. We saw a recent example of this when Southern’s board foolishly removed its chancellor for no good reason over the protests of the university community it supposedly serves. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s meddling with LSU, however, has shown not even the Old War School is immune from blatant gubernatorial politics.

But the key flaw in the proposal at present is there is no requirement that the board members in this new arrangement know anything about higher education. Just because someone knows how to run a business, it does not qualify him or her to make educational policy.

In fact, much of what is wrong with education today (from pre-K to college) stems from the misappropriation of principles from the corporate sector that have no place in education. There are legitimate distinctions between the business world and higher education that must be both understood and respected.

Those who act as if education can be run “solely as a business” simply do not know what they are talking about. Unless this oversight is corrected, Rep. Carter’s proposal is not much better than the current status quo.

Albert Samuels

university professor

Baton Rouge