Edwards’ threat immediately left many LSU fans around the state wondering if the governor is going to pull the season plug on their beloved Tigers. They needn’t worry too much since LSU athletics is self-funded through ticket sales, marketing revenue and donations to the Tiger Athletic Foundation. What they might be concerned about is that the couple mil a year athletics donates to the university is not enough to cover other academic expenses which would be susceptible to a cut.
You can bet that Edwards’ threat is being discussed with far greater concern today at schools such as UL-Lafayette, UL-Monroe, Nicholls State, McNeese, Northwestern Louisiana, Southeastern Louisiana, Southern, Grambling and the University of New Orleans. Of course, UNO has been through all this before in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which I detailed in my book, Where the Water Kept Rising. I wrote in the book that the most ridiculous aspect of these inevitable funding crises is this: Under the state constitution, virtually every department in state government is protected from the budget axe, except higher education and health care. I’m not going to repeat that for our readers who live outside of Louisiana, but somehow, somewhere the misguided mavens who determine such things decided that the two disciplines most critical to the present and future well-being of our state can be stripped naked when the need arises. Who cares if hospitals and emergency care facilities close or if universities can’t keep their lights on to give state students a jumpstart into their future?
Robert Mann, a member of the LSU Journalism faculty and a columnist for the local wipe, describes the present crisis simply: “Because almost everything is protected by statuary or constitutional dedications, the only places to cut deeply are higher education and health care. Thereupon, LSU and its sister institutions are seized as hostages, threatened with destruction until enough public outrage and fear prompt lawmakers and the governor to pony up the funds to keep the lights on and classes running….Too often, excellence was not the goal unless we were talking about athletics.”
Which returns us to the new governor’s threat tactics. Edwards has convened a special session of the legislature on Sunday that will run until decisions are made on resolving the crisis. Each one of the venues named above has local legislators who want to keep the lights on and the footballs and basketballs pumped up. But the only way to make them pay attention is to put the fear of Tuscaloosa into them by scaring their football fans who care enough to vote and will complain to their duly elected representatives.
I must admit I stood up and took notice when he announced that one of the programs being cut immediately is the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS), which gives high-performing high school students the assurance of free tuition at any Louisiana school. My daughter, Layne, is at LSU Nursing School and has received her TOPS scholarship for the spring semester. That benefit is now in jeopardy of being rescinded and replaced by a demand note. The Lovely Miss Jean and I have started discussing contingency plans in the event that TOPS is not restored.
We are fortunate that we can cover the expense if we receive a retroactive bill, but what about those thousands of students who can’t? I can see a major number of dropouts from every school around the state, including LSU, hitting the streets or even taking out student loans that linger into adulthood. But if those students have to drop out of school now or in the fall or forever who really cares? You can bet the legislators of this backwater province feel that’s a small price to pay so long as their favorite school will have a football season!
It might be an understatement, to declare that the Louisiana universities are in panic mode. According to recent government figures, the state is roughly $950 million in the hole for the balance of this fiscal year and $2 billion in deficit for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2016. Historically, because the way the legislature has devised the budgetary system, higher education and healthcare needs are the victims when cuts occur.