W. Clinton Rasberry Jr. is universally known as “Bubba,” and his Shreveport upbringing ingrained politeness in the conservative businessman. So his measured remarks on higher education constitute an especially damning indictment of the policies of Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature.
Some state leaders say they value higher education, Rasberry told the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge, but their actions don’t reflect their words.
“There are certain people in our Legislature that are inappropriately advised,” Rasberry said drily.
As chairman of the Board of Regents, Rasberry has given decades of volunteer service to higher education, and it must be galling to see Louisiana’s progress sacrificed on the altar of tax cuts by Jindal and lawmakers over the past six years.
The state has cut $700 million from higher education, as Rasberry noted, balancing the budget on the backs of colleges and universities. Some of that loss has been recouped in tuition increases, but the loss in national competitiveness is being felt on every campus in the state.
It is particularly tough for LSU and its research institutions in Baton Rouge, but it is a statewide problem. Other universities with significant research efforts, such as Louisiana Tech in Ruston and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, face similar problems keeping top professors, and the federal and corporate research grants that can leave with them overnight.
Even campuses focusing mainly on undergraduate education have difficulty paying the salaries to get great teachers. And classes are larger, or sections are not offered and students delay their educations, at further cost to the state’s economic competitiveness.
“If higher education is a priority in our state, the level of investment must reflect that,” Rasberry said. “We need stability in funding and some predictability.”
Behind this somewhat bureaucratic construction is the ugly political reality: Jindal and lawmakers have cut and cut again, using tuition money and one-time money to replace tax support. That fuels an agenda of government that is cheaper to higher-income taxpayers. Tax cuts and breaks for companies took the place of supporting the institutions that ought to be the state’s pride.
It is not only self-serving for the politicians. It is the opposite of what we see as a progressive policy of funding quality colleges and universities that help drive a 21st-century economy for Louisiana.
We don’t know if what we’ve said is what “Bubba” would tell you in private over a whiskey.
But we believe there is a combination of horror and sadness felt by many of the most prominent business leaders in Louisiana over higher education’s future unless the 2014 Legislature, with at last some positive leadership from the governor, drastically reverses the course of its predecessors.