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Diversity, focus on education needed for new appointees

A graduate of Louisiana State University – Baton Rouge has written an interesting editorial that, if nothing else, provides a perfect demonstration of the parochialism that has held back higher education in Louisiana for so long.

The column concerns recent Gov. Bobby Jindal appointments to the LSU Board of Supervisors, the body that controls the Louisiana State University system comprising of LSUBR, the University of New Orleans, LSU Shreveport (my employer, who has nothing to do with this posting), LSU Alexandria, LSU Eunice, the law school, the agricultural school, two medical schools (New Orleans and Shreveport), the Health Care Services Division (the other “charity” hospitals), and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. It makes two points, that recent Jindal appointments may have served to tilt power in the system more to him and away from system President John Lombardi, and that given one appointee is a University of Louisiana – Monroe graduate, in the words of the writer, “And there exist[sic] an opinion or two among LSU alumnus[sic] – myself included – who feel every member of the LSU Board of Supervisors should have graduated from LSU or the university's law school or its medical school.”

Concerning speculation about the impact of the appointments relevant to Lombardi, it’s true that Lombardi didn’t quite understand on which side the bread was buttered early in his tenure as he made public statements at odds with Jindal initiatives. Jindal modified them somewhat but forged ahead successfully anyway and Lombardi has grown much quieter since. The biggest battle, however, looms ahead – getting the LSU system out of the hospital business with the loss of resources, power, and prestige that comes with that in order to institute a more efficient and effective money-follows-the-person system of indigent health care. Here, it bears understanding that Lombardi merely is hired at the pleasure of the Board and will do what it wants, so if Jindal is putting people on the Board amenable to getting the state’s flagship educational system out of managing health care, Lombardi will bend in that direction.

It is this parochialism of the LSU system fighting to keep control of these resources that as much as anything else has held back health care reform in Louisiana. It is the parochialism of the sentiment of only having LSUBR, medical, and law graduates on the Board which has held back the system in performing its genuine function of higher education.

LSUBR alumni may find it hard to believe, but taking all the other institutions except the law and medical centers (adding them to LSUBR) shows more than a third of LSU system students are not enrolled in these institutions. Therefore, a complaint about how somebody with a degree from outside the system shouldn’t sit on the system’s board rings pretty hollow when other system institutions aren’t even deemed legitimate to have their graduates sit on it even as their students make up a substantial minority of total system enrollment.

Also, in academia it usually is considered desirable to have a considerable portion of the faculty and administrators come from outside a university’s system. Louisiana follows this dictum I suspect less than other states, and my own employer probably is even less likely to adhere to it, but by my count only a sixth of LSUS faculty have terminal degrees from an LSU system school. This cross-fertilization introduces new perspectives into university governance and performance that can shake institutions out of old, unreflective and increasingly inefficient or ineffective ways of doing things, and it should be emulated all the way to the top in order to help improve higher education in the state.

When there are too many people with a single institutional affiliation on the Board, the inbreeding discourages creativity and a wider, more thoughtful view of the scope and role of the LSU system as a whole in the performance of its main job of education. Jindal needs not only to appoint people who understand LSU resources are better used in education than in running charity hospitals, but to pursue greater diversity in educational backgrounds will enhance the Board’s ability to perform its mission of guiding education with an emphasis on the entire state.

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