Our Views: Ignore paths of progress?

The news that some LSU professors will get a small pay raise next semester was obviously good for recipients, but the larger message is not being comprehended a few miles north, in the Metro Council chamber in Baton Rouge’s city hall.

Raising a professor’s pay by 3 percent is a small investment. It is not earthshaking news. But it is emblematic of a huge economic and social reality that can be overlooked.

That reality is the world’s ravenous appetite for talent.

At universities, particularly aspiring research centers like LSU, the best minds are at a premium. The competition is not only with Auburn or Georgia Tech but universities from Shanghai to Manchester, England. A 3 percent raise is only a modest down payment on what LSU and other Louisiana universities need to become competitive in this international marketplace.

But universities are only part of it. When the Metro Council first addressed the “fairness ordinance,” the overwhelming testimony of business leaders focused on the importance of Baton Rouge’s growing businesses being able to compete for talent.

Over the past 15 years, the Baton Rouge Area Chamber has sponsored canvass trips to leading cities in the southeast and elsewhere. In every case, those cities have embraced variations — usually, legally stronger versions — of the fairness ordinance now before the council. Anti-gay prejudice was once rife in those cities, too, but not only the social obligations of fairness but the economic requirements of competitiveness overrode hostility to such ordinances, often decades ago.

We are not optimistic that the same lessons learned from Austin, Texas, to Orlando, Florida, will be embraced by the Metro Council, but we hope when the final vote is taken on the ordinance that members wake up and smell the coffee.

Laughably, some of the members have argued that anti-gay prejudice does not exist, but the virulent statements made in testimony before the council itself belie that. The ability to hold a job or keep an apartment lease, once one has a boyfriend or girlfriend of the “wrong” gender, is a real concern for many gay people in Baton Rouge.

Rejecting this modest fairness ordinance requires Metro Council members to embrace a willful ignorance of the day-to-day lives of their gay constituents, young and old.

If anti-gay prejudice is a throwback to the past, as a guide to Baton Rouge’s economic future, it is painfully out of date. The examples of cities across the South that have vastly exceeded Baton Rouge’s growth over the past 25 years ought to speak to council members. Tolerance of difference is an economic essential in today’s world.

The holy grail of economic development is diversification from our traditional oil and gas base. But even in Louisiana’s traditional industries, it is brainpower that is increasingly the concern of businesses large and small. Baton Rouge brands itself, all right, if the council rejects the fairness ordinance. But it’s a brand that works against the economic, as well as social, progress that the city needs.