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Public needs to watch Regents matters closely

If I had little experience with working in government, in higher education, in Louisiana, I likely would shrug off reports that power plays are going on at the state’s Board of Regents, of these fantastic scenarios that certain people are trying to be put into positions of power, that the governor’s husband was trying to rearrange the higher education system, that political agendas come first. But ….

Most people go through their lives with only minimal daily contact with government (which unfortunately often becomes reflected in a lack of interest or knowledge about government and political issues of the day). They’re engaged enough interacting with free markets, raising families, or pursuing other ends to make it difficult to fully understand that (1) daily happenings in government agencies have only a tenuous connection with the real world, (2) daily happenings in academia have almost no connection with the real world, and (3) both of these conditions are compounded in extremity by a hyper-politicized political environment built so much on personalized power bases such as in Louisiana.

I’m embarking on 20 years teaching in higher education, with all but four of those years in Louisiana institutions, most of those at my present location. But I also have the benefit of an M.B.A. and a short tenure managing in the banking industry, and I can tell you that the decisions made in the latter, private sector area are much more rationally related to reality (because of the imperative that the free market distributes resources in proportion to agents’ contributions to society) than in the former, which features government-run institutions heavily dependent upon tax dollars (directly or subsidized) where it is political power, not merit, that determines the distribution of resources. I could, but won’t, give a number of examples of this personally known by me just from my own institution, and others at which I’ve taught.

So when in Louisiana you have state senators and former regents complaining about political agendas to ditch certain people and to bring in others, and to reorganize the entire structure of higher education apparently to favor a certain interest led by the governor’s husband, as far-fetched as all of this sounds, not only is it believable, it might even be true. That by itself doesn’t mean the personnel changes or potential reorganization would not be positive. But it would be reprehensible if the reason for such changes was not after careful study of all available facts and options, but because of politics.

This is why the search for a new chancellor for the Louisiana State University System, new appointees to the Board of Regents, and any alterations to the organization of higher education in the state that may result must be scrutinized very carefully by those connected to higher education, legislators, and the citizenry. Even that may not be enough to prevent politics – even with procedures to maximize impartiality I’ve seen rigged search committees/pre-determined hiring decisions, “studies” that blatantly push one side of an argument, and Gov. Kathleen Blanco can stick whomever she wants on the Board of Regents where they have the power to do whatever they want (short of legislative intervention).

Not reelecting Blanco would nip in the bud the possibility of this specific issue becoming a problem, but the general conditions remain regardless. Only a vigilant public can control for that. So, even if living in the real world takes up so much time and effort, keeping up with what goes on in the unreal world of Louisiana higher education is something all citizens need to do to make it work the best that it can.

(P.S. Note disclaimer in small type below for those of you who are unable to understand the obvious.)

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