We live in a results oriented society. But as is so often the case of government at all levels, once programs and agencies are created and funded at a certain level, they quickly become sacrosanct and absolved of accountability or show of performance. If I were a newly elected legislator considering the budget for universities like LSU, here are some questions I would ask:
LSU has one of the lowest graduation rates of major colleges throughout the country, including schools in the Southeastern Conference. Only about 60% of students at LSU graduate in six years. In my generation, if a student did not graduate in four years, it was a blemish on their record. Why are we funding students to “hang around” year after year? Granted, the feeder system from the state’s high schools is weak. But six years or more? What efforts are made to remediate in the first year, then weed out these students who are not capable of carrying the load?
Endowments are critical for a university to excel, particularly in bad economic times. But in the past, LSU has made little effort to raise private funds. As the column pointed out last week, The Times Picayune reported that “Louisiana’s flagship university is dead last among schools in the Southeastern Football Conference when it comes to the rate of alumni giving and the size of the school’s endowment.” What efforts are being made by the university to aggressively raise private funds?
Is LSU overrun with administrators? What is the ratio of faculty members to nonacademic jobs? I’ve been told it’s more than six to one, with way too many non-teaching jobs. Is LSU a teaching college, or has it become a multiversity festooned with extraneous functions? And why is there such a large number of LSU administrators making more than $200,000 a year?
Does LSU make undergraduate teaching its first priority? There are grumblings that graduate students are commanding too much of the professors’ time and attention. And who is teaching the freshman? Ask any new student about the large lecture classes, with the discussion session often conducted by some fledgling graduate student. Why are full professors not carrying a greater teaching load?
Why sabbaticals? 99% of us don’t get a year off to refresh or write a book. The mission should be to teach. A three-month summer vacation should be ample time to travel and write. And what about all this “publish or perish” malarkey? I have a publishing company, and I am all for more books being published. But why, at the expense of the student and taxpayer, should a professor be financially supported in the publication of a book, often on a lightweight theme, that few read, just to stay on tenure track? Teaching should be the primary mission of a major university like LSU. But is it?
What about tenure? There is a major push to abolish it in the elementary education system. Why is tenure so sacrosanct in our universities? Are we protecting professors who have lost the drive to teach and who hide behind the mantra of research? Are universities like LSU spending too much money on research and not enough on the focus of the classroom?
There was a time when universities saw their mission as education. The present debate should be about much more than money. The mission of universities like LSU needs to be specifically articulated. Certainly academia should be well funded. But universities should also be “smart funded,” with clear priorities and predictable results to show for the effort. Right now, particularly in Louisiana, there are a number of unanswered questions that our new governor needs to ask and that taxpayers need to have answered.
“The secret in education is in respecting the student.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. You also can hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9:00 am till 11:00 am Central Time on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.