The Folks At LSU Are Not Helping Their Cause With The Upcoming Budget Battles

It’s no secret that budget cuts are on the horizon at LSU with the upcoming legislative session focusing on how to resolve a $1.6 billion budget deficit. The word is higher education is likely going to take something like a $400 million cut, and some $60 million of that will hit the state’s flagship university.

A $60 million cut at LSU is a fairly severe hit. It won’t destroy the university the way sizable budget cuts to some of the state’s less-robust universities will, but LSU really can’t afford a loss of that much funding if it’s going to maintain or advance its position as a nationally-competitive university.

Of course, LSU should never actually take a budget cut. If funding from the state’s general fund should dwindle, LSU is a university whose educational product is in enough demand that it can recoup its funding through increasing tuition and fees. The market would actually support a far higher cost of an LSU education than currently exists; LSU is, in fact, one of the cheapest schools in the SEC despite being one of the more desirable places in the conference for college students to attend. So if there’s a $60 million shortfall in what the state legislature can send LSU’s way, then the legislature should for damn sure get out of the way and allow LSU to raise its revenues through other means to cover its costs.

Other universities in the state, whose educational products are not underpriced in the market and do not carry the value an LSU education does, aren’t in such a position – and the cuts coming to them could well put them out of business. That may actually be a needful thing; we all know Louisiana has too many four-year public colleges to adequately fund them even in a good year, and the overbuilt system leads to Louisiana having too many bad colleges and not enough good ones to actually move our state forward.

But in order to get the legislature to play ball with LSU, either to restore the university’s funding amid the budget carnage or to achieve benign neglect from the legislature allowing it to raise its prices to meet its needs, university president F. King Alexander is going to need a solid bit of PR to make the case for saving LSU from the axe.

And good PR is in extremely short supply at LSU right now. That campus seems like it’s full of idiots the taxpayers probably wouldn’t want to subsidize.

Sam Hanna, writing at the Ouachita Citizen, offers one example of bad judgement from this past weekend…

Why Jan. 24?

Because that was the day a few hundred protestors, including members of the LSU faculty, took it upon themselves to denounce some 7,000 Christians who gathered in LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center for a day of prayer. Not exactly a wise move for the do-gooders among us who might harbor the notion that the general public can be motivated to oppose any more cuts in state funding for higher education. Especially in Louisiana where going to church even outweighs football, LSU and the New Orleans Saints included.

Organized by Gov. Bobby Jindal and an outfit called the American Family Association (AFA), the prayer event at LSU was billed as a day for Christians to come together to pray for the nation. In light of the turmoil that’s consuming the planet thanks to radical Muslim extremists and a dictator or two here and there, God’s guidance is needed now more than ever. Even a ne’er-do-well couldn’t dispute that point.

It seems the protestors had a bone to pick with the AFA over its opposition to homosexuality and radical Islam. Jindal was a target because his administration has presided over hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts in funding to higher ed. His recent remarks about radical Islam ginned up the protests, too.

Relax. Homosexuality is still a sin, and more cuts to higher ed are on the way courtesy of a budget shortfall that’s years in the making. And in the Deep South, terrorism, especially terrorism waged by radical Muslim extremists, ain’t exactly very popular.

The protestors certainly had every right to express their displeasure with the prayer rally, including the organizers. The opinion writers and bloggers who logged their distaste for the prayer event had every right to sound off, too. After all, this is America, and the First Amendment still matters. For now.

But a line was crossed when protestors and opinion writers alike described evangelical Christians as extremists. It was over the top and revealed the visceral nature of their opposition to Christianity.

Hanna then gets to the point…

When Alexander, the LSU president, treks off to the capitol this spring to lobby the Legislature for more funding for the state’s Flagship University, he shouldn’t be surprised if he encounters some lawmakers who’ve got a bone or two to pick with him about how Christians were treated on the LSU campus on Jan. 24, 2015. Without a doubt, the tone of the opposition to the prayer rally, both on the campus and on the opinion pages, conveyed an intolerant attitude toward Christianity.

And it happened on LSU’s watch.

Those protests against that prayer rally are only one example of activity at LSU that won’t sell well at the Capitol. How about this little piece of magic?

That wasn’t even the worst thing showing up in the Reveille in recent days. Today there’s an op-ed demanding more female engineering professors

There is a well-documented lack of women in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — due in part to the culture of many professional environments. The University is making efforts to attract more women to engineering, but they cannot make much of an impact if women feel unwelcome in the engineering field and choose not to pursue engineering careers after graduating.

But the University and other schools have a real opportunity to help shape the culture of STEM fields and make them more welcoming to women.

By exposing male engineering students — the bulk of future professional engineers for the time being — to more women in positions of authority, the University would help legitimize women in the workplace.

It goes without saying there is no reason men should not accept female engineers in the first place. At the same time, it would be unfair to suggest all male engineers are incapable of accepting women in the workplace. But the numbers do not lie when it comes to the lack of women in professional engineering roles.

The College of Engineering certainly appears committed to diversity — in the student body, at least. But it owes its students, both male and female, the benefits of a more gender-balanced faculty.

LSU’s engineering school is one of its most successful divisions. It competes nationally and its degrees are the ticket to very lucrative jobs in fields like energy and manufacturing. It might have challenges attracting more female students, as all engineering schools have, but demanding that the school begin prioritizing its hiring decisions based on the plumbing of the applicants is not the sort of approach which would serve to maintain that excellent reputation.

It’s an unusual demand to be made from one of LSU’s engineering students, wouldn’t you say? Except there’s an easy explanation…

Alex Mendoza is a 22-year-old political science and international studies senior from Baton Rouge. You can reach him on Twitter @alexmendoza_TDR.

Oh, so it’s a poli sci student taking to the pages of the school newspaper to demand that his cultural and political values be imposed on a school in the university he doesn’t even attend.

How that even gets published is a question. But it’s par for the course at the Reveille.

Look, LSU needs to be a priority when it comes to funding of higher education. But that’s not a universally-accepted idea at the legislature; lots of those legislators come from towns where there’s a university not named LSU that the locals think is a major economic driver, and as a result they’ll actually fight to cut LSU in an effort to save a school nobody else in the state thinks even ought to exist.

And LSU has never done a good job of selling itself as a funding priority. We see this over and over when the leges find a way to bring constitutional amendments to the ballot that would dedicate money to all kinds of pet causes – and the majority of them pass. LSU never fights any of those dedications, and that’s stupid; every time money gets dedicated to coral reefs or old people or road construction in Shongaloo it’s money not available to fund LSU. Therefore the voters continue putting LSU’s budget at risk, usually without even paying attention to the consequences of what they’re doing. Because LSU doesn’t do anything to raise that awareness.

LSU also never seems to fight to prioritize itself over those little “economic drivers” around the state which struggle to even reach 5,000 students and graduate nowhere near half of what they do attract. The money going to those – let’s be honest and call them bad universities – is money LSU doesn’t get, and yet you’ll never hear a word about that from anybody at the flagship.

So when LSU takes a big budget cut in this year’s legislative session, let’s cool it with the “Bobby Jindal/Republicans/Politicians/Dumb People In Louisiana don’t care about higher education” business. When it comes to securing dead presidents out of the state’s general fund, the dumb people who don’t seem to care reside at the Ole War Skule these days.



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