When I read about the current state of higher education back in Louisiana, I wonder if I am reading excerpts from a poorly written fictional tome of travesty. When I speak with friends and peers back home, the conversations are surreal as the travesty is not a work of fiction. Higher education is dying, and it is not from natural causes.
Other sources have acknowledged the twists and turns along this sad path. Please refer to sources such as The Times Picayune, Tom Aswell’s Louisiana Voice, Dayne Sherman’s Talk About the South , and Bob Mann’s Something Like the Truth. There are other news and personal blog sites with writers who conduct high quality research and provide citations to their sources via links such as those I mentioned, but making such lists often results in inadvertent omissions even with due diligence and not off the cuff writing as I am doing here.
The issue back home is that Louisiana faces a budget deficit of $1.6 billion. To cut straight to the bone, the state must make additional cuts or bring in more revenue. The problem is how to make things work in this situation.
In this case the debacle did not happen suddenly and without warning. The drop in oil prices did not create the shortfall but simply added to it. Years of tax breaks resulted in less recurring revenue and non-recurring, one time money served as the means to balance previous budgets. Some call that kicking the can down the road, my analogy is Louisiana allows a can to rust and then begins the process of kicking that rusty can down the road.
Along with the rusty can, the state constitution specifically protects funding for certain areas which in turn channels any cuts to areas such as higher education.
A short term patch would have been collecting the lost revenue by repealing the tax breaks, closing loopholes, likely instituting new taxes. Before anyone throws the tax and spend accusations, this patch only applies after cuts have been made. Sometimes, though, there ain’t nothing left to cut.
Long term solutions would involve revising or rewriting the state constitution and making systematic changes. As I’ve written before, I am not privy to enough numbers to promote specific steps. One does not need access to the numbers, however, to realize that “fixes” such as the inventory tax idea would not result in immediate revenue regardless of whether or not one likes the proposal.
Now one would think that those who are privy to the numbers would consider a $1.6 billion deficit of the utmost importance. The state legislature begins day 10 of the state mandated 45 legislative days within a 60 day period today. Still, the House has yet to conduct any session lasting more than 4 hours. Yesterday’s session lasted all of 95 minutes. The Senate has conducted a single session lasting more than 4 hours once, but they also have 4 sessions convened and adjourned in less than an hour.
Kristy Nichols, the Commissioner of Administration, assures the people that all will be fine. According to her, “Louisiana’s leaders have been working around the clock to protect higher education and ensure our young people can continue to receive a quality education within our borders.”
Now as a professor, my definition of “around the clock” apparently differs from someone of her stature. As someone reared in a rural area on a berry farm, my definition differs as well. As someone who has worked in occupations such as shingling roofs, plumbing, shrimping, crabbing, mechanical work, and while not me personally observed my Dad working at K&B, my definition differs. As someone who despite my “non-work ready degrees in history” is currently refinishing our basement and using a shovel and hoe turned about 3000 pounds of topsoil, compost, and manure into our front yard to create proper sloping away from the foundation along with hopes of transforming red clay and stones into a fertile planting zone, my definition differs. It’s true that working a 12+ hour day in academia is different from blue or no collar work. One stresses the mind and wrecks the body through lack of exercise; the other can offer a mental stress outlet via physical exertion but it ultimately wears the body out. All are valuable and most are underappreciated up until the point when someone has a direct, immediate need.
Of course those who have never taught think it’s easy. Professor Mann, an individual who holds a prestigious position at LSU as the Manship Chair of Journalism, recently came under attack by LSU Board Member and Baton Rouge Business Report publisher Rolfe McCollister for not having a workload to justify his salary.
Professor Mann provided an eloquent response on his blog.
Partisan blog The Hayride and its founder Scott McKay continued the attack about salary and work hours. I’m paraphrasing Mr. McKay from a radio debate with Dayne Sherman on the The Jim Engster Show, but apparently one must work 40 hours a week in the private sector to earn a salary just north of $100,000. Now I could earn significantly more working the private sector as opposed to teaching and possibly work less hours doing so, and I do not have the same level of experience, credentials, and contacts of Bob Mann. I am younger, but he could earn more in the private sector or just by leaving the state to teach in another higher education system.
Some may believe Kristy Nichols. Some may have faith that the legislature will find the funding. I hope they do, but it’s not something that can be delayed. If state leaders were “working around the clock” and truly appreciating the overall impact of just the uncertainty, I would expect them to at least try to mitigate the short term damage by hinting that some plans were in the works.
What’s happened is that:
- LSU along with other schools in the state are laying the groundwork for filing exigency. That’s the academic equivalent of bankruptcy.
- Moody’s downgraded LSU’s credit outlook which makes it harder to borrow money and increases interests rates. Investors withdrew their backing of over $100 million in bonds for LSU.
The worst case scenario for higher education is in excess of an 80 percent decrease in funding on top of all the previous cuts the past 7 years. Here’s an idea of what only a 35 percent decrease would do to the LSU system.
At best LSU and other schools in the state would be in a fight to keep accreditation for the few programs which might remain. “The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.”
For LSU and the colleges and universities in Louisiana accreditation comes from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges (SACS). Essentially without accreditation, degrees from an institution are worth less than the paper upon which they are printed. Credits earned will generally not transfer to another school. Simply you lose all credibility. For more specific information, please see Bob Mann’s “Shots fired: What’s the meaning and the fallout over LSU’s decision to threaten exigency?”
Unfortunately as some outside of academia believe, it’s not as easy as simply moving revenue from athletics to academics.
Even if you do not believe my arguments justifying the salaries of individuals such as Professor Mann, please take a look at how much adjuncts earn at any institution. Educated, highly qualified, and frankly some of the best teachers on any given campus, these adjuncts earn amounts that most of us would not be able to survive if that were our sole source of income. People sacrifice financially to teach, and I never want to experience a world without teachers. Would anyone?
Yes, we do have a problem and one would think that everything would be placed on the table to prevent damage.
Does it really matter if one believes that damage is minimal natural erosion or the result of a catastrophic hurricane?
One would think that ending tax credits or passing new taxes for revenue would be part of the discussion.
In a logical world that answer would be yes but not in Louisiana. Bobby Jindal is one of those individuals who has pledged allegiance to lobbyist Grover Norquist which takes precedence over the state constitution or even the Constitution of the United States of America. The Governor believes that he must receive clearance from Grover and Americans for Tax Reform to take any type of action. Sadly to some these allegiances are patriotic and like Bobby they accuse the President of redefining the American dream.
At present Bobby points to corporate welfare as the enemy, and he has received permission from Grover to make those statements. Are we really expected to forget that much of this corporate welfare in the form of tax credits and rebates happened because Bobby endorsed such programs? Actually Bobby is the modern version of the 1952 Platform Double Talk commercial for Adlai Stevenson.
The legislature has been just as indecisive with their double talk. The decisions or lack of action regarding Louisiana’s film tax credit is a prime example.
Some people have argued that if the ‘phit hits the shan’ the legislature will authorize tax increases which Governor Bobby will veto and then the legislature simply overrides that veto to save higher education and Bobby’s delusional Presidential aspirations viable and his pledge to Grover intact.
While technically possible, a veto is unlikely under state law. In Louisiana a majority in both Chambers must declare in writing that a veto session is necessary. If a veto session convenes, it does so 40 days after the conclusion of the regular session. That might not sound daunting, but veto sessions are rare in Louisiana. I may have forgotten something, but I do not recall any vetoes since the provision went into effect in 1974.
(Bob Mann in his “The Governor of Oz” piece at http://www.nola.com/opinions/index.ssf/2015/05/the_governor_of_oz_robert_mann.html provides a citation showing that since 1974, 2 vetoes have been successfully challenged by the state legislature. HB 112 in 1991 signed by Buddy Roemer and HB 1229 signed by Edwin Edwards in 1993. The only bill that came to my mind was the anti-abortion bill vetoed by Buddy Roemer in 1990. The Senate voted to overturn with approximately 23 votes which in Louisiana is 3 votes short of the required 2/3 majority. Professor Mann’s source of information concerning Louisiana vetoes is available here.)
Even with my incorrect assertion about the successful override of vetoes, it is still rare as the chart illustrates the number of bill vetoes and line item vetoes since the state Constitution went into effect. To me the concern remains the same. Who knows how much additional damage will be inflicted during that delay and period of uncertainty.
Of course I could be wrong and Bobby Jindal might have some interests in trying to save higher education. That interest, however, is not apparent with his speechifying in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina for early presidential votes or raising funds from any and all Christian Conservative groups by pushing what he obviously believes is the most important bill before the Louisiana legislature.
That bill is HB 707, the “Marriage and Conscience Act.”
- Bobby’s op-ed for the New York Times can be read here.
- An interesting take by Rabbi Gabriel Greenberg on that bill can be read here.
- The text of the bill is available here:
Sadly I believe the goal is to break down and privatize in the same manner as health care. I hope that I am proven wrong. If the people back home do not speak out, the ramifications will be far greater than many realize. It’s a virus destroying a state and nobody is immune.
Higher education back home in Louisiana is dying. The cause is attempted murder by poisoning. If people turn a blind eye, attempted will be stricken from the records, and higher education will be a lifeless body. It is We the People who will have to deal with the residuals and the ‘stink’ of death. After the lifeless body decays the maggots and parasitic organisms will seek another host and everyone is a potential target.