One side of educating the populace and good citizens rests on students and faculty. The other side is for government to provide stable and proper funding. Whatever the sentiment on simply keeping on cutting taxes, as Gov. Bel Edwards noted in opening the special session, you cannot finally get something out of nothing. It is irresponsible for those in government to forget that revenue has to be raised to provide public services, even in a capitalist system.
Further economies and consolidation of programs and campuses are worth continued examination and implementation. But the main driver of Louisiana higher education’s current crisis is clear: The collapse in state support happened in just the past eight years. That support of 60 percent, with tuition paying 30 percent and other sources the rest, was flipped to 30-60 by our past governor and legislators. No small or large business could have survived such a cut without consequences. That our universities continued to provide quality education to our students is praiseworthy.
Even in the midst of a terrible Civil War, President Lincoln and the politicians of his day had the foresight to install through the Morrill Act land-grant universities such as LSU, seeing their research and educating as necessary for a healthy future. Higher education was a common good, essential for a good and healthy citizenry.
It is that vision that has been lost. A bipartisan national group, called The Lincoln Project on the plight of U.S. public universities (www.amacad.org/content/Research/researchproject.aspx?d=929), documents the drop in state support as the main culprit (80 percent). And Louisiana heads the list in the decline in state support.
They also note that 30 of our states do not have even a single private research-intensive university. And in all, it is the public counterparts that educate the overwhelming number of undergraduates and graduates and produce the majority of basic research and inventions that are crucial to the country’s future. Louisiana’s residents and politicians have to decide whether we play a part and, if yes, fund accordingly.
Even on the question of consolidation of universities, blame the Legislature, not universities. Adjacent campuses from a segregated past and current-day politics against merging them are their doing. Distortions due to TOPS and its funding, direct control on tuition as in no other state, are all items for reform by our Legislature. Some university leaders may be faulted for going along, but absurdities such as the Student Assessment for a Valuable Education Act in the final hours of the last session and blank pages in signing over charity hospitals to private entities are frauds perpetrated at the State Capitol.
A. R. P. Rau