Finally, There Is Some Pushback Against The Higher Ed Voices Of Doom

If you’re as irritated and fed up as we are over the constant screaming from the higher education community about the cataclysmic effect of budget cuts they are not in any real danger of taking, you’ll like this.

Last year, LSU President F. King Alexander, before he sabotaged his athletic director and a large number of athletic boosters over Les Miles’ job status as the football coach over the question of the optics of a buyout of Miles’ contract (that situation ultimately seems to have worked out better than anyone could have hoped for, so far, but then we won’t know for sure until we see Miles’ team on the field this fall), went around publicly advertising that his university would have to declare financial exigency, otherwise known as “academic bankruptcy,” if LSU had to take a cut from its state general fund subsidies. This led to the cancellation of a bond issue LSU was proposing, because people actually took what Alexander said seriously.

And LSU’s funding was not cut, though the budget deficit that resulted might well precipitate some end-of-year savings at the Ole War Skule.

LSU can take cuts, by the way. LSU’s budget is over $420 million, and there is no reason to believe every one of those dollars is crucial to keeping the doors open.

But nobody wants to cut LSU, and LSU is going to emerge just fine from the current budget situation. This is known at the state capitol, especially by Alexander. It’s also known by a lot of the other higher education officials – there might be cuts, but none of them are going to have to shut down or declare academic bankruptcy like they keep threatening they’ll have to do.

And so in testimony before the Senate Education Committee yesterday, there was at long last some reaction.

Two events brought it on. First was the strange flicker in commitment to TOPS awards, in which on Thursday the Edwards administration threatened to cancel TOPS awards in mid-semester, which would hit thousands of college students and their parents with four-figure tuition bills they hadn’t planned on, and then on Friday denied there would be any such cancellation. And then there was a statement by Nicholls State University President Bruce Murphy that his university would close for two weeks, per documents Nicholls State filed with the Board of Regents, “only as the absolute last option Nicholls would ever take.”

That was all Sen. Mike Walsworth was going to put up with without saying something, and yesterday he shot back about the TOPS imbroglio wanting to find out who leaked the business about cancelling scholarships. During a colloquy at yesterday’s hearing with Louisiana Higher Ed commissioner Joe Rallo, Walsworth wanted the leaker identified…

“I don’t think there’s one person in this room who thinks TOPS is over,” Walsworth said. “But we are allowing that conversation in people’s homes and saying, ‘Well, maybe Louisiana is not the place where we do higher education. Let’s go somewhere else.'”

And then in the hearing, Sen. Conrad Appel really let University of Louisiana system president Dan Reneau have it over the Nicholls State controversy, which set Alexander’s gums to flapping again…

“Is it fair to tell the public that we’re seriously considering closing schools? We’re up here trying to solve a budgetary problem and I don’t think there’s one person on this stage … that sincerely thinks we’re going to close a school,” state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, said. “The news media’s flashing all this kind of stuff up there and getting people all worked up. I just don’t think it’s fair.”

Reneau, who had confirmed the information to reporters before the Senate Education hearing began, defended the disclosure as being in a public document. He said it wasn’t “interpreted correctly,” but acknowledged that the size of the budget cut was equivalent to two weeks’ worth of salaries paid to university staff who could be furloughed.

LSU President F. King Alexander came to Reneau’s defense, saying that there’s been talk among some legislators that the state shouldn’t raise taxes to close the deficit. If that happens, Alexander pointed out, universities would face huge funding cuts that the public deserves to know about.

“There are those who believe we could end this session at any moment, then we’re dealing with a worst-case scenario,” Alexander said. “Our job is to share with you what’s going to happen if that happens. We have to formulate multiple scenarios because we have no idea what’s going to come out of this three weeks.”

But Appel said that he worries that the worst-case scenarios being detailed in the news media could become “self-fulfilling prophecy.

“I’m just warning you all, be careful and make sure these news media folks know that this is not Nicholls is planning closure. It’s Nicholls is planning closure if we don’t take action,” Appel said. “That’s the key that doesn’t ever show up.”

Nobody at the hearing demanded to look deep into any university’s books to give a full examination of whether there is waste which can be cut. But that might be coming, and if it comes we should welcome it. If F. King Alexander insists on demanding the legislature raise taxes or else he’s going to do something catastrophic at LSU, therefore setting off a flurry of angry calls from legislators’ constituents, then those legislators have every right to push back against him by making absolutely sure he’s not wasting any of the money he currently gets. And God forbid some waste or fiscal management of less than an optimal character should be found, because that could be awfully embarrassing to Alexander and LSU.

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