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Tempest in teapot aggravated by ill-suited function

To comprehend why controversy has emerged concerning the LSU Board of Supervisors over its officer elections requires understanding the very controversial function the Board was given long ago. (Technically the Board ultimately oversees me and at times like these often with chagrin as not all of its members or the system as a whole will end up agreeing with me on issues.)

In its upcoming election to be chairman-elect, one candidate being backed for months by many board members is being challenged by another who apparently is favored by the Gov. Bobby Jindal Administration. Governors appoint these members and neither member was appointed by Jindal.

This is claimed by the long-time candidate to be divisive and one of his supporters claims the entry of the other candidate and the lobbying, which he claims without verification included threats not to reappoint a member who did not vote the Administration’s way, will wreck the Board with bitterness. Further, the candidate feeling aggrieved by competition sees this as an undue interference by an administration into the workings of the Board.

Three things immediately are worth noting about these claims. First, competition for an office is a healthy thing that provides opportunities for evaluation of different policies that in all likelihood strengthens the quality of the victorious program. By nature this will produce division, but it will create better policy than if consensus is allowed to play too prominent of a rule in the process. Successions that are too orderly too often have a way of perpetuating rigidity and inflexibility.

Second, a governor and/or his staff have a right to lobby for whoever they please. If they believe one candidate as opposed to another will produce policy that better helps the state, not only should they express that preference, they would be derelict in their duty not to.

Third, the Board is independent of the governor’s office and the only way its members lose that is to surrender it themselves. Even if an administration in order to get its way threatened recalcitrant members with not reappointing them to the Board, one must question the motives of Board members for their service if reappointment is seen as such a prize. The first priority of any board member should be to the organization and who it represents, the people of Louisiana in this case. They are there first and foremost to serve, and you best serve by making the best decisions possible without letting an extraneous consideration such as reappointment get in the way. One must wonder if a member so highly values reappointment to allow it to exert leverage over his decisions that perhaps he is there for the wrong reasons – not so much to serve but to enjoy power and privilege that comes with board membership.

But considering more deeply this issue discovers a larger implication. The complaining board members believe the policy dispute leading to rival candidacies comes from questions about governance of the health care portfolio for the LSU system (which actually takes up more resources than its educative function). Louisiana famously is the only state in the union which primarily runs its indigent care system through a series of state-owned hospitals, and for over a decade these have been run by the LSU system.

Regardless of the merits of the differing views of governance issues, if this assertion is true the fact remains that this would not be an issue at all if LSU did not have this (for an educational systme) bizarre function. As health care redesign in the state continues, hopefully the “charity” system will be dismantled, or at the very least its administration transferred away from a university system so that it can concentrate on its core mission of education.

To some extent the dispute is a tempest in a teapot, encouraged more internally than externally. At the same time, it’s a dispute that really need not exist were the LSU System not saddled with providing a service only tenuously connected with its genuine purpose. Perhaps some change on this account will occur as a result of this election.

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