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Talk defends existing interests, invites harsher remedy

To those that don’t spend regular time around the academy, the code we use to communicate can be confusing. Recently the Louisiana State University System President John Lombardi made some remarks that presumably reflect the system’s views. But from deep within its bowels, let me offer a translation for those uninitiated in the discourse.

Lombardi: On the topic of funding higher education, he claimed that the state was too chintzy in doling out money to it, and in charging too little to it. “So out of nothing we’re going to have a high-quality higher education system,” Lombardi said.

Translation: “If I keep repeating something like this, it will distract people from understanding that, on a per capita basis, of the states and the District of Columbia Louisiana has the tenth-most amount of money spent on higher education, its tuition rate is ranked 31st, and in real terms despite ranking on 22nd in numbers of 18-24 year olds and 23rd in overall population, it ranks sixth in the number of public community colleges (including technical schools) and eighth in the number of baccalaureate and higher institutions. As long as people don’t know these facts, they won’t know that Louisiana higher education overall, with exceptional campuses here and there, is run very inefficiently, and I can get away with complaining there’s not enough money for us.”

Lombardi: The Postsecondary Education Review Committee established to look at potential efficiencies and savings in the state’s delivery of higher education is, by its nature, going to be worthless. “They will propose dramatic and radical transformations of the world in ways that our political process can’t possibly comprehend and that our fiscal resources can’t possibly afford,” Lombardi said.

Translation: “I’m scared to death it may figure out how inefficiently we do things and actually propose radical and dramatic presentations which are entirely possible, but to me and the special interests I protect are inimical to our way of doing things. We don’t want to make any fundamental reforms to help the taxpayer, we just want to make cosmetic changes that will direct more money to us so we can do more of them same.”

Lombardi: Critical of suggestions made that the five boards that coordinate public colleges and universities in Louisiana should be consolidated into a single entity, he described the exercise as “a controversy without content” that will only serve to “occupy time and energy and prevent anybody from doing anything significant.”

Translation: “Even though no other state takes such an inefficient, convoluted path to governance of higher education that costs the state in terms of duplicated bureaucracy and programs, I’m going to claim consolidation represents some weird kind of ‘centralization’ of higher education that discourages ‘competition’ because if consolidation happens the board that employs me will be eliminated and I’ll probably lose my job and power.”

Lombardi: The Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, which uses taxpayers’ money to pay for the tuition of mostly state high school graduates to a Louisiana university if they meet some very minimal standards, should be based on “need,” not ability.

Translation: “If you’re not a family below middle class, we want to stick you with the bill even if academically your kid is just as deserving on merit for scholarship money as any from a poorer family. That way, we can throw as much of the money around as we do now, either through TOPS or by taking any excess created by this change and moving into our accounts, and then collect extra from those whose children will be getting exactly the same service from the state but we will make them pay more because we can get away with it.”

Lombardi: These better-off students and/or their families are untapped resources to gouge to throw more money at higher education. He asks if “feeling sorry for these kids” to stroll through the student parking lots. Hardly a car there is valued at less than $25,000, he said. “That means there are a significant number of students who attend LSU who are capable of paying a higher tuition rather than buying a fancy car,” Lombardi said.

Translation: “I’m pompously clueless. My entire worldview is shaped by drives in my fancy car from my spacious workplace to my luxurious residence and back, interrupted by fine dining at the taxpayers’ expense hobnobbing with the influential and powerful. I can’t be bothered to take a walk through the parking lots at the New Orleans and Shreveport campuses to see the large proportion of cars of middle-class families competing with those of the faculty and staff to see how many escaped the ‘cash for clunkers’ roundup, because even with their tuition paid they still have to work other jobs and scrimp to afford the books needed for class and the many fees our system throws at them, in addition affording to their families’ living expenses.”

Lombardi: Having the Legislature determine whether tuition increases of a certain level should occur is too restrictive. These decisions should be left in the hands of higher education.

Translation: He got it right; even a blind hog finds an acorn occasionally.

I’m glad to have provided this translation for my readers. And when my promotion request comes back from the system level next spring denied, we’ll know the provision of this service for me at least didn’t exactly come free. (And the head of my campus, who has nothing to do with these comments, probably will get chewed out for this, but he’s got enough fortitude to stand up for free speech rights of his faculty members.)

Regardless, it’s necessary because unless higher education comes to grips with the reality of its situation, it’s going to be worse off when the inevitable changes come. When those with the facts encounter the attitudes echoed in Lombardi’s speech of turf protection, job maintenance, and reluctance to critically self-examine one’s organization, the budget cleaving by state policy-makers will be deeper and done with more zeal. Genuine leadership would be searching for ways to face facts, rather than asking for more money from policy-makers and from the people who are growing more and more skeptical of this defense of existing interests with every passing day.


Unknown said...


Will you leave a forwarding address so that we can follow your thoughts at your new location.

This is Louisiana remember and the cretins will undoubtly try to "stiffle" you...(Oh, another word from 90 year old Civics teachers.)

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is pretty inefficient to have a 4 year college in every corner of the state, with duplicative programs. Probably best to close down every thing but LSU-BR.

Anonymous said...

Thanks took the words right out of my mouth. Will someone please tell me why there is a four year university in Shreveport? There's one right next door in Monroe. Come to think of it, I think the one in Ruston is plenty and then maybe we can turn Monroe into a two year and convert Shreveport ino a . . . .I don't know . . . . so many possibilities.