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Savoie requests show resistance to Jindal agenda

Just what kind of game are Louisiana higher education systems playing in regard to the hiring freeze implemented by Gov. Bobby Jindal? The executive order mandates that state agencies obtain exemption to hire in any open position, since Jan. 15, from Commissioner of Administration Angèle Davis.

While the Louisiana State University system won approval for the one blanket exemption, to hire direct providers of health care in the charity hospital system that it runs, Davis has rejected two other requests from Commissioner of Higher Education (soon to parachute into the presidency of the University of Louisiana- Lafayette) Joseph Savoie, first a blanket exemption for any university hiring, then one adjudged by university heads not Davis just turned down by Davis.

While all of this jockeying from higher education has gone on, other agencies have been dutifully compiling the data and getting exemptions – one of them being Savoie’s employer, the Board of Regents itself. In the meantime, Savoie has been complaining about having universities do the same – and not always recounting his case for blanket exemptions in an accurate way.

In a letter to Davis the day after the inauguration, Savoie wrote “More importantly perhaps, it would send a signal throughout the entire academic community that Louisiana is not a state upon which faculty, researchers and top-flight administrators can depend for good faith recruitment efforts.” If he believes this, it shows that despite his dozen years in his position and almost two decades in higher education prior to that, Savoie hasn’t learned a whole lot about faculty hiring in higher education. Position freezes are not at all uncommon for job applicants to deal with and they are not seen as unusual nor automatic disqualifiers of a prospective employer precisely because they are so common.

Later, Savoie argued that the freeze would affect hiring for adjunct positions. Adjuncts instructors are hired on a course-by-course basis to fill in gaps not able to be covered by the full-time faculty members. But unless I have totally missed something in the wording of the order, the freeze doesn’t apply to adjunct positions because they are temporary and part-time.

We also have to understand to context of the complaints Savoie is making. Remember that Jindal knows full well how higher education works, having led the University of Louisiana system. He probably knows that, in fact, the process of re-justifying new faculty positions is probably easier than what most other agencies face. In academia, new faculty jobs are created at the behest of academic departments who provide evidence of the need of the position – burgeoning enrollments, for example – which then must be approved by a chain of command all the way to the system level before any hiring can begin. This means most of the work Davis is requesting already has been done.

In other words, if Savoie would just give the order to system presidents, universities could take out their old documentation, maybe update them slightly (if they would need to at all), and then send them up the chain eventually to Davis. It’s just not that difficult to do. And, while I’m at the very bottom of the academic food chain, I’ve heard nothing come from the Regents or the system level at my university to do this while Savoie pursues this quixotic quest. Why can’t both, blanket requests and specific requests, be done at once?

So why is Savoie digging in his heels so much? The answer comes from Jindal’s oft-stated goal of making universities in the state more outcome-oriented, focusing not so much on inputs (money, students attending, etc.) but on outputs (degrees awarded, graduation rates, and the like). The very first step in implementing this sea change in philosophy is to align human resources with desired outcomes – and Savoie, not just as outgoing leader of higher education but also as incoming university head, fears this larger agenda (as probably does his employer the Regents and the university system boards they oversee).

Davis has publicly stated that she would give great deference to university hiring, and I’m willing to predict that over 90 percent of such requests she’ll end up approving. However, she will make approvals with the realigning agenda in mind focusing on “critical” needs. And the university administrative culture, for the most part insulated in its own world, is such that it disdains any interference and resists change. The easiest way to accomplish this goal facing this crisis is to ask for a blanket exemption to help blunt realignment. So that’s why Savoie would rather throw up artificial barriers than get down to business like other state agencies have that would aid Jindal in his initial effort to imprint his agenda on Louisiana higher education.


Anonymous said...

Davis doesn't say anything in that article about "giving deference" to universities. And neither statewide nor university hiring freezes are common. Budgetary delays are certainly not uncommon for specific jobs, but candidates don't wait a whole month at this time of year for them to be worked unless desperation is involved.

Jeff Sadow said...

>Davis doesn't say anything in that article about "giving deference" to universities.

Reread the post -- nor did I say she said those exact words. Mine is just a reasonable summation of her sentiments.

>And neither statewide nor university hiring freezes are common.

Perhaps you don't study state politics or have worked in a public university. In the early part of the decade, about a couple of dozen states had to institute freezes for some time at one time or the other because of deteriorating finances. At any given time a handful will have freezes on. It's just the nature of differing economic fortunes and fiscal structures.

Back when I was on the market, probably 5-10 percent of all jobs I applied for had some kind of contingent financial condition attached to them. Job candidates know some portion always will. It certainly won't encourage them, but neither will it discourage them.

>but candidates don't wait a whole month at this time of year for them to be worked unless desperation is involved.

My second job out of graduate school was one that had a financial hold on it. In fact, I turned down a tenure-track job (but an inferior position) to wait on that one. This and other experiences I have had on the other end argue that "desperation" is a total mischaracterization of the traits of candidates you get.

And, the larger point remains true, if Louisiana universities had just gotten to work with the justifications, even as I type this Davis might be approving those exemptions. Instead we've seen posturing and self-vicitmization designed to portray the freeze as negative.

Anonymous said...

In re the first part: She didn't say anything remotely akin to what you're suggesting about giving deference. That was my point. I don't see where in the article you got that. In not one word does she suggest any such thing.

Hiring freezes, meanwhile, at at the beginning of the decade (during a slight economic downturn) do not equal "common." It's now 2008. Budgetary issues can be common, as was noted, but if a job is equal or better elsewhere at this time of the year, you're incentive as a candidate would be to take it--that is, the job without any budgetary delays or in a state without a hiring freeze.

My second job out of graduate school was one that had a financial hold on it. In fact, I turned down a tenure-track job (but an inferior position) to wait on that one.

Great example there! You waited for the better job. Presuming that all jobs with Louisiana state universities would be superior is ... well, not a serious argument, especially not in the post-K environment.

Anonymous said...

She says she is "trying to work," which is not the same thing as giving deference. She wants the universities to play by her rules. She already rejected the university system's request for a blanket exemption and, as such, has not granted the wishes or respected the concerns of administration or faculty at a time when the universities actually have money to spend, and some are trying to recover from Katrina.

Jeff Sadow said...

On common freezes -- reread the comment. At any given time several states have something like this going on, even now. Every job candidate knows it, expects it, and factors it in their searches. It's part of the process. So it's not uncommon or unusual.

On deference ... I linked to just one article. There are a couple of others where she adds other comments. In one, she practically begs universities to forward endowed chair positions. A second-hand source in DOA confirms it.

On my second job ... I think you missed the point that this job having a financial hold on it did not discourage me from pursuing and even turning down a sure thing. The university assured me chances of it coming open were great and I found it persuasive. I don't think the mindset of academicians has changed all that much since when I was on the market.

Something everybody should read is Jim Beam's comments on this in his column today. He accurately points out about the several cushy, high-paying (LeBlanc making five times my salary; two months of that is a whole year of a faculty line) jobs affiliated with higher education into which recent government officials have parachuted. That's the main thing Jindal is after as far as the unviersities are concerned. In other words, it's not all that certain that "granting the wishes or respected the concerns" from our universities is always a good thing, and a little review of these isn't a bad thing. If we can't justify the obvious to those outside the university, then we have no business being in higher education or spending taxpayers' dollars.

baton rouge du nord said...

Why do you keep calling it a "freeze?" Considering that 60-some-odd have been hired, looks more like a "chill." Like you, I doubt that it will result in lost opportunity at universities.

University administration isn't the only group that will resist change, though. My prediction-- we'll see a lot more resistance to Jindal's changes.

The test will be whether he can foster the type of cooperation needed to make positive changes.

Dr. Carlton, my Louisiana history professor, told us that so-called "reform" governors never get much accomplished. I did not want to hear that at the time (1983 or so), but he was right up to that point.

Mike Foster, on the other hand, got a lot accomplished. Problem was, he grew state government dramatically while passing tort reform and doing other positive things. He wasn't exactly a reformer. I guess that it is a lot easier to horse trade your reforms with extra spending in someone's district.

Jindal has some good ideas, and I hope he can prove Dr. Carlton wrong.