Maybe it’s the new definition of “good news” in Louisiana higher education: The LSU Agricultural Center is not planning on declaring a financial emergency this year.
The LSU System said “heroic efforts” to save money on the budget would prevent the declaration of “exigency,” which is the financial equivalent of the atomic bomb in the university world.
Its effects would include allowing the institution to lay off faculty members who have tenure. While that would cut costs, it is also a significant black mark on the reputation of an institution that aspires to national leadership in its field.
The center’s chancellor, Bill Richardson, said the institution is hardly out of the woods financially. Over two years, the center has absorbed $26 million in either direct cuts or indirect impact on its budget by mandated costs such as insurance for its employees.
The center is down to less than $100 million a year, counting its self-generated revenue from grants and licenses on its new crops or other inventions. It has lost many faculty and staff to its competitors, and it has closed some research stations around the state. Like LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the agricultural facilities have no students, thus no tuition income.
Rather, the two centers represent a huge part of the state’s long-term effort to build a knowledge economy in Louisiana. Cutbacks at Pennington and at the Agricultural Center are a blow to this ambition to make Louisiana more competitive with its neighbors and develop high-paying jobs — in the case of agriculture, literally growing more crops or making products from the soil.
Is it good news that the center avoids exigency? Only in the sense that it’s better than the alternative.