Stand up and roar

Dire budget situation threatens LSU football’s potential
associated press

            In the first 12 years of this millennium, LSU football reached its zenith, playing in three title games and winning two national championships. Four years later, it looks as if it could all come undone.

            On Monday, LSU President F. King Alexander told the Baton Rouge Press Club that due to the state’s budget crisis, public universities might have to cut this semester short or not offer classes this summer. If that happens, it will have a direct negative impact on those schools’ sports programs, as many athletes take a small course load in season and pack classes in during the summer when their schedules aren’t so crowded.

            “We’ll only have half of our football team eligible” without a summer session, King said.

            There’s no reason the state’s flagship public university, or any of our state schools for that matter, should be in this position.

            Because of the way Louisiana’s state constitution is written, the budgets of higher education and health care are usually hit the hardest when legislators look to reign in spending. This is madness and has got to stop. Rather than browbeating these industries, they need to be supported.

            When he came into office in January, Gov. John Bel Edwards revealed Louisiana is facing an estimated $943 million budget shortfall this year and $2 billion next year.

            According to The New Orleans Advocate, “Louisiana’s colleges and universities will be cut a minimum of $70 million for the remaining few months of the school year, but that number could grow to more than $200 million if state legislators do not increase state revenue through tax hikes…. If LSU gets hit with the most modest mid-year cut being proposed, it would amount to about $17 million at the Baton Rouge LSU campus, and $33 million for the LSU System.”

            Those figures don’t encapsulate what could happen to the University of Louisiana or Southern University systems.

            While many have argued that threatening university athletic programs is hyperbole, King said, even in the best case, budget cuts will require LSU to layoff employees, and could be forced to remove tenured faculty. While many would say this is a good start, LSU has cut 75 programs and 2,000 employees in the past eight years. How many more cuts can be endured?

            The legislature is about to enter the final week of a three-week special session to find a solution to the economic boondoggle. Everything from the TOPS scholarship program to hospital and school funding to college football have been offered for cuts, while a 1-cent sales tax increase has passed to help close the budget gaps. Still, King said the state’s universities and colleges are in “a fog” regarding funding for the remainder of this year and the start of the next academic year.

            With oil prices depressed and little relief expected soon, the state’s economy is and could be in recession for the foreseeable future. The state must find new revenue streams, but must also ensure it makes smart, appropriate spending decisions going forward. Consolidation is needed in the state’s higher education. I’ve already argued that Louisiana should look at closing and/or merging as many as five of its 14 publicly funded four-year universities and six of its 15 two-year colleges. In addition, the state’s three university systems should be merged to one. But these moves must be made with the intent to make the surviving institutions not only viable, but stronger.

            If our schools’ leaders are in a fog about their institutions’ futures, imagine the boondoggle its recruiting coordinators are experiencing. If they can’t accurately answer potential incoming students’ questions about the quality of education their school can provide, class schedules or whether a dynamic teacher will be on campus or jet for a more secure position at another institution, likely out of state, blue-chip recruits – both athletic and academic – likely won’t consider attending a Louisiana school. That’s a damn shame.

            Over the past three decades, LSU has grown into a nationally respected academic institution. But in the last five years, many of those advances have started to come undone. Our best professors are leaving the state for more job security elsewhere.

            It’s time for Louisianians to take action.

            Let our legislators know that continued cuts without a plan to strengthen our university system is equivalent to economic suicide for the state. Without TOPS or a respected academic system, our best and brightest will look to advance their educations out of state. And once they’ve matriculated out of state, it’s tough to get them to return home when they’ve finished their schooling. A less educated population means fewer skilled jobs, less income, and lower tax revenue. In this case, brain drain could lead to the entire state’s economy being flushed down the toilet.

            Like Mike the Tiger, stand up and roar.



Categories: The Pennant Chase