Two approaches nationally drive the call for reform in higher education resource allocation, the linking of university performance to student outcome and greater transparency. Louisiana has more aggressively entertained the former with the implementation of the GRAD Act, but has not really engaged in the latter.
Not like Texas, and in particular Texas A&M University. While Louisiana State University Baton Rouge might have the defeated the Aggies in the Cotton Bowl, A&M puts the Tiger administrators to shame with its willingness not just to put some financial figures in the public domain, but for giving them some context and to use them in management decisions. For example, while in Louisiana it’s possible for the public to get access to public college faculty members’ salaries, in Texas schools must post online, in an easily-accessible way the budget of each academic department, the curriculum vitae of each instructor, full descriptions and reading lists for each course and student evaluations of each faculty member – and A&M has taken the further step of computing cost-benefit analyses for each faculty member in order to reward high performers with bonuses.
A&M’s pioneering effort wasn’t without problems. Originally, it also published salaries and cost per student for individual faculty members but the effort was rife with errors and provided inadequate context – for example, while by the numbers somebody pulling six figures who taught few students may have seemed far less efficient than another who taught a thousand at a much lower salary, the latter may have little chance to teach as effectively if given very large classes. As a result, A&M eventually pulled the report from public view.
Still, it was a step in the right direction and certainly the idea to use the data privately to reward productivity is solid. As always, the devil is in the details in terms of the definition of “productivity.” Using the above example, the likely reason one faculty member makes much more than another is a record of voluminous research (usually defined as number of publications and papers presented, with some subjective analysis of their quality factored in). And while research production is good for teaching ability because it further informs an instructor, often there is little correlation between teaching ability and research production, if in fact this is not a negative relationship. Further, courses offered may reflect more arcane research interests than in necessary offerings in a discipline. Yet this archetype reaps the highest rewards in academia, the exact opposite of the primary purpose for its existence: where the best teachers (meaning those whose students learn the most and the most useful information in a fashion that sharpens their critical thinking skills) should be expected to teach more students and receive the highest salaries.
As such, to some degree Louisiana should emulate Texas and A&M. Thus, even though it’ll be all busy dealing with redistricting and budgeting this spring, the Legislature would be wise to pass legislation that:
· Requires putting online (within three links of the home page is the Texas standard) the budget of each academic department, the curriculum vitae of each instructor, the salary of each instructor, the number of students taught by each in the previous year, the average salary cost (including fringe benefits) per student for each, the average grade point average for each class taught by each in the previous year, full descriptions and reading lists for each course from the previous year, and student evaluations of each faculty member from the previous year (with an explanation of the methods/instruments involved)
· Mandates each department require an assessment of its graduates of its majors offered, outline how that assessment is conducted, produce the aggregate scores of the assessments, compute the number of graduates in each major, and publish these previous years data online as well
· Put online, for the previous year, overall university profiles of faculty salaries, by mean and mean per quartile, numbers of tenured, tenure-track, non-tenure-track, and adjunct faculty, list all administrative and staff positions with brief job descriptions and their salaries, the budget of each non-academic department, and ratio figures of administrative/staff costs to faculty costs, and ratio of the number of staff/administrators to full-time faculty equivalents
Not only would this produce information that can be used for innovative productivity enhancement plans as A&M is attempting and assist in budgeting and strategic planning, it also would increase transparency so students and their families can weigh the deployment of their (and maybe taxpayer) dollars in higher education decisions. As Louisiana’s public continues to become more skeptical about the utility of higher education spending in the state, these changes can restore its confidence in this area and lead to more efficient allocation of resources.
Speculation about the placement of the state’s Congressional districts, with their necessity of paring from seven to six due to population loss, we considered to some degree. We concluded the matter mostly open-and-shut that today’s Third District, running from Acadian parishes on the west in a swath curling all the way across to the most southerly and easterly parts of the state, was a goner, its spoils divided among several existing districts. Several reasons suggested this:
· It will produce five districts favorable to (with four absolutely safe for) Republicans and one to (and safe absent scandal for) a black Democrat, an important consideration where roughly three-quarters of each legislative chamber is composed of Republicans and black Democrats, with a governor from the GOP
· The population distribution by race in the state makes it about impossible to draw any more than one minority/majority district, but the requirement that at least one majority/minority district get drawn makes New Orleans the epicenter of that district, menaing to increase in size to get its additional population it only can move south or west – and west, as well as the Northshore, are constrained by the necessity of drawing a separate district grabbing at least part of Jefferson Parish, boxed in as this (currently the First District) is by geography (Mississippi to the north and east)
· The Third District’s representative of days-old tenure, Jeff Landry, has no seniority compared to all other majority/majority district holders nor any time in elective office – important because the more senior members have built up contacts among state legislators and have leverage over them even in this earmark-less era, none of which Landry has delivered
· Without Jindal applying little to no pressure, the two most important figures in the decision will be House and Governmental Affairs and Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, respectively, Chairmen state Rep. Rick Gallot and state Sen. Bob Kostelka – both from north Louisiana and almost neighbors, so it is unlikely they would look favorably on any remapping that, as the continuance of anything like the Third would require, would put all of north Louisiana in one district, as it now is split between the Fourth and Fifth in essence creating double representation
· It also seems that any plan that keeps something like today’s Third around would create any of odd shapes, non-compact districts, and make strange bedfellows of different areas of the state, at least relative to a plan of carving up today’s Third – these nebulous judicial standards of contiguity, compactness, and community
· More future political careers also might be better served by the division of the Third; for example, the state Senate district of Neil Riser makes up a good chunk of today’s Fifth District and if he harbored progressive ambition he would find something that preserved something like the Third would split his voting base
We agreed that both politically, because there might be Republican control of both legislative chambers by the time the process runs its course, and from a legal/judicial standpoint, given the criteria set forth above plus as there seemed to be no concerns of lack of equiproportionality (districts with fairly equivalent populations) to draw such a plan, that the dismembering of the Third would occur. That doesn’t mean alternatives won’t be offered and debate won’t occur over them, but the dynamics clearly favor this plan.
As for Jindal, we suspect he hasn’t completely detached himself from the process. If he does have a preference, as long as the Legislature seems headed in that direction, he’ll stay out of the process. But if he does and for whatever reason the Legislature doesn’t appear to head in that direction, we may not have heard the last from him on this subject.