SADOW: The Plan To Consolidate LSU Is Solid – But Let’s Go Further

While the proposed reconfiguration of the Louisiana State University System brings with it many salutary characteristics and strengths, the nagging question remains about whether some of the things the system tries to do would not be done better with alterations to it.

At the end of this week, the LSU Board of Supervisors appears ready to accept the plan, drawn up by a nonprofit organization that consults on the area of higher education, that is congruent with the “One LSU” concept that has been floated by a number of interests in the state. The separate universities, professional schools, research/public service agencies, and medical educators/providers will cede some autonomy that fuses to some degree the Baton Rouge campus and present system, but retain a fair amount of it in a way that hopes to promote cost savings, efficiency, and increased stature.

The structure, similar to those of a couple of other state university systems, would provide consolidation savings of the academic administrative apparatus and also of back-office functions, the latter mirroring recent action taken by the Southern University System. It permits independence in many areas, such as the abilities for schools to continue to make personnel decisions, choose coursework offered (beyond a standardized General Education Requirement), and leave auxiliary programs intact such as sports and academic teams. The initial combining would go into effect by the 2015 academic year.

But a couple of concerns remain about whether the arrangement leaves the system doing too much. The “flagship” concept argues that governance must concentrate on creating a premier educational institution yet that stresses research as much as teaching, creates the highest standard of excellence from students, and is designed with statewide needs in mind.

This immediately brings into question the placement of the baccalaureate-and-above institutions in Alexandria and Shreveport, and the community college in Eunice in, or even as part of, the system. The proposal has their leaders report to the subordinate of essentially the LSUBR head. As noted previously, that does not seem designed well to allow these schools to pursue their missions, which concentrate much more on teaching than research; have much lower admission standards, which mean a different target audience with different goals for use of their education; and are to serve regional needs, which may not overlap with, if not conflict, with a statewide focus.

Even a cursory glance should inform that a community college is very much a fish out of water under this scenario. It’s also questionable whether this structure could meet optimally the purposes of the four-year campuses. As such, better would be to remove these three units, sending one into the Louisiana Community and Technical College System and the others to the University of Louisiana System.

Of greater dubiousness is the insistent on keeping peripheral units to the core educative function. While the Agricultural Center and its associated units perform useful research, the extension centers are more service-oriented entities that might fit better under the Department of Agriculture and Forestry. With far greater finance and provision implications, the new ordering would continue to run the entire charity hospital system, which as a result now puts the system in this functional area much more in the role of a health care provider than medical educator.

Recent restructuring of the charity system, by reducing half of its institutions into shell facilities large enough only to avoid legislative involvement in micromanaging system decisions, to continue to draw federal money, and to perform specialized tasks such as prisoner care, already is causing significant retrenchment in the LSU System’s interjection into health care provision. This begs for the system not to stop at half measures. As previously noted, there’s no reason medical education cannot be concentrated solely at the New Orleans and Shreveport hospitals, where these could be retained by the system, and the remainder taken under Department of Health and Hospitals administration. This would allow the system to hone in on what its main job is supposed to be, educating, not spending so many resources and dividing its attention on trying to run a business.

Naturally, asking a government agency to shed authority and resources, as this does, goes against the very grain what makes bureaucracy tick. However, the supervisors are not and should not think like bureaucrats in this regard, Yes, there’s a small amount of prestige lost by making the empire you oversee smaller, but for the state the benefits outweigh the costs, and thus the Board should approve of this plan with these changes.

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