Another Louisiana Higher Ed Leader Hits The Road

You can’t blame people for being suspicious these days anytime someone in Louisiana higher education calls it quits. Randy Moffett, president of the University of Louisiana System that oversees McNeese State and eight other universities, will retire this fall after more than 40 years in the field.

Moffett showed unusual courage in today’s political climate when he called on the state Board of Regents in June to suspend its performancebased funding formula. He said it wasn’t designed to work effectively when higher education has to endure continued budget cuts.

The formula Moffett is talking about was developed by the Regents in March of 2011. It is based on performance, course completions and a stand-alone formula for twoyear institutions. Most colleges and universities believe they haven’t been treated fairly because of the way funds are distributed.

Dr. Joe May, president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, talked about the unfairness of the system back in January. He said the institutions he represents should receive money for students who don’t finish their course work.

“We get zero funding for them,” May said. “So this college, after having spent a lot of time, energy, resources, hired faculty and invested in them — simply because of the fact they didn’t finish the course we get zero funding for that.”

You take your professional life in your own hands when you dare to criticize any facet of the Gov. Bobby Jindal administration. Agency officials lose their jobs, legislators lose their perks and others like Moffett take early retirement.

Moffett gave no reason for stepping down, but ask other higher education officials. They don’t come right out and say it, but you know they believe it’s because he dared to oppose the governor who supports the higher education funding formula. And Moffett had reportedly told a colleague recently he planned to be around for a while.

The higher education exodus began in April when LSU System President John Lombardi was fired by the LSU Board of Supervisors before his contract expired in January.

Lombardi’s firing came as no big surprise since he had been critical of higher education budget cuts, and he was always outspoken and abrasive in his remarks. He often incurred the wrath of legislators, as well.

Michael Martin, chancellor of LSU’s Baton Rouge campus, left Louisiana in May to become head of the Colorado State University System. He had another year left on his contract at LSU.

Martin didn’t make a big thing of his resignation, but said, “I’m hoping and trusting that wise and committed leaders across this state will find solutions to alleviate budget concerns and help LSU to be the kind of place that the state of Louisiana needs.”

Vic Stelly of Moss Bluff resigned from the Board of Regents six months before his six-year term would have been over. He, too, decried the continuous cuts to higher education institutions.

“I’m tired of the lack of concern with higher education in Louisiana,” Stelly said. “Obviously, it’s not a high priority. We seem to be more concerned with other things. This administration doesn’t seem to be concerned with it.”

Higher education cuts have totaled $420 million since Jindal took office in 2008. The governor and his spokesmen have said the ability of universities to raise tuition has helped close the gap. However, talk to university officials and they will tell you it simply isn’t true.

Moffett talked in June about $74 million being taken off the top before funds were distributed to the individual university systems like LSU, ULS and Southern. LSU hospitals in New Orleans and Shreveport got $18 million and the TOPS scholarship program got another $56 million.

Nick Bruno, president of the University of Louisiana at Monroe, agreed with Moffett.

“One campus should not flourish at another campus’ expense,” Bruno told The News-Star of Monroe. “I think there is a compromise out there…”

University system presidents who have been outspoken are shown little mercy by Jim Purcell, state commissioner of higher education. He suggested Moffett simply wanted more money for his ULS System.

“I think in this particular case, there is more of a desire to redirect funds from other systems to the UL System,” Purcell said.

That comment seems unfair. Everything we’ve read about Moffett since his resignation announcement tells a different story.

William Jenkins, interim LSU System president, said, “He (Moffett) has been a pillar of strength in higher education for a very long time. I’ll be sad to see him go.”

Wayne Parker of Ruston, chairman of the UL System board, said, “Dr. Randy Moffett is one of the most esteemed leaders I know who provided great leadership during some very challenging times for higher education…”

Moffett had too much class to say it, but it appears he is another victim who has refused to surrender his free speech rights to an administration that has zero tolerance for dissent. You can’t help but wonder who might be next.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].

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