LSU Board of Supervisors Needs To Fire F. King Alexander For Threatening Bankruptcy

Yesterday, LSU President F. King Alexander warned that if the Louisiana Legislature went through with budget cuts; the university would be forced to file “academic bankruptcy.” Essentially, Alexander threatened layoffs and cuts to academic programs if there are cuts.

LSU’s PR machine went into overdrive making dire predictions. The Reveille warned that professors wouldn’t teach at LSU if there were layoffs. An op-ed in The Reveille called on LSU students to march on the State Capitol.

A close examination of the evidence shows that Alexander is engaging in scare tactics at best. His rhetoric threatens the credibility of the university and as a result, the LSU Board of Supervisors needs to fire him.

As Jeff Sadow noted in his piece today, the numbers just don’t back up Alexander’s argument.

Of course, Alexander did not have to tell the world that he had asked the institution to begin drawing up such plans, so that served as a public relations move more than anything else (affirming this primarily was a scare tactic by adding “We don’t say that to scare people”). He piled on with the imaginary terrors by stating “You’ll never get any more faculty” if declaring exigency and lamenting that, at budgeted levels without changes in current revenue-raising capacity for the state of which the Legislature is trying to alter, the taxpayer portion per LSU undergraduate student would drop to $660.

But that figure seems hardly credible. The budget as is reports that the LSU System, where about 73 percent of the student body attends the Baton Rouge campus, is down for around $56 million in state funding, or about $1,250 a student (including graduate students but excluding nonresidents). And that’s counting only the funds specifically allocated to the system, before general fund dollars are imported from the Board of Regents according to its formula, which would add another estimated (by proportion of students, which doesn’t even take into account that the per student allocation to LSUBR would be higher because it has the highest costs and the highest proportion of full-time students) $3,500 per student. Even subtracting out the assumed revenue changes that pump in around $400 million to the BOR number, it’s still $2,100 more per student. Alexander needs to explain how he’s getting this $660 figure when budget figures suggest it’s five times higher. (By the way, the flagship University of Oregon, which is under no financial difficulty as it proceeds under its relatively new quasi-privatization, gets about $3,000 per student from its state taxpayers for its students.)

More subjectively evaluable is Alexander’s claim that exigency will scare away future faculty hires. For the most part, that is sheer nonsense. With the social and technological changes roiling the traditional model of higher education, there has come a tremendous glut in available faculty, especially in the humanities and social sciences. Conditions may be tighter in the sciences and business, but if any school puts out in any discipline an open position, especially if for a tenure-track slot, with such a buyer’s academic employment market, you won’t be hurting for applicants. And, if nothing else, when the University of New Orleans had to turn to exigency after the hurricane disasters of 2005 and the Southern University System found itself declaring exigency a few years back, they kept finding plenty of applicants for the relatively few jobs they could advertise. To be charitable, Alexander greatly exaggerates the negative impact that exigency would have on faculty recruitment.

Not only does this year’s budget numbers fail to support Alexander’s argument, as Scott McKay pointed out, LSU is actually taking in more money now than in 2008-09, which was the last “fat year” in Louisiana’s budget.

You’ve heard over and over again that LSU’s funding has dropped off the table since 2008, right? That was, of course, the year Louisiana’s state budget was some $30 billion thanks to the massive Katrina recovery bubble, crude oil prices well over $100 a barrel and a strong national economy that would shortly fall into recession. Well, LSU’s 2008-09 budget that year was $425 million.

Guess what LSU’s 2014-15 budget is?

It’s $455 million.

All you’ve heard for the last six years is that LSU has been gutted by the Jindal administration and the governor and his appointees on the BOS ought to hang themselves from the rafters at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center for all the damage they’ve done. And yet LSU has $30 million more coming in this year than it had in the fat years.

Now, the state general fund revenue to the school has dropped from $235 million to $108 million, but LSU’s self-generated revenues have gone from $190 million to $347 million.

LSU is becoming a more desirable university to attend in the free market. This is a good thing.

If Alexander cannot budget with more money coming in than in a record budget year, he’s clearly incompetent. If that’s not the case, he’s a liar. Neither one bodes well for LSU.

LSU, like most flagship universities, is transitioning to a model where markets will decide which universities will survive, not the “goodwill” of politicians. It means they will have to provide a product that students actually want. LSU might actually have to be careful with how it spends money in a market-based system.

In order to restore credibility and competence to LSU, F. King Alexander needs to be fired as LSU President.

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