In terms of collateral damage in the Legislature, the worst case so far this year is Tulane University, which, as far as we can tell, has done little or nothing wrong on legislative scholarships. But the “Tulane scholarships” controversy and subsequent headlines can hardly be fun for a great university.
The scholarships are for Tulane, and they are granted by legislators, so that’s all factual. And some legislators have abused the privilege, giving the tuition grants to political insiders’ children. Thus there is controversy over awards that began more than a century ago.
But as the Public Affairs Research Council pointed out the other day, some legislators have granted the awards to constituents through a fair and nonpolitical competitive process.
And Tulane itself offers an Open Competition program for the legislative awards. A leader in scholarship reforms has been Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, and he was the first to pledge the use of the Open Competition program to pick the student from his district. “With this system, Tulane determines the recipient from a legislator’s district based on various criteria, including financial need,” the council said. “No lawmakers have used this resource, although it has been available to them for many years.”
There is the crux of the controversy: political self-interest of the lawmakers.
So there should be fewer headlines about “Tulane scholarships” and more about “patronage scholarships,” because that is what these awards became in the wrong hands.
We favored reform bills by Claitor and others, but the root of the problem is in legislators clinging to political selections instead of using Tulane’s process to ensure a qualified student wins an award.
It’s a state election year in 2015. The public should demand that candidates for the Legislature pledge use of the Open Competition process to take politics out of the legislative scholarships.