With another muddy political compromise, the state Board of Regents allowed F. King Alexander to get away with overturning two decades of admissions policies at LSU.
Now, Alexander is headed away to Oregon State. After much debate, more internal than in public view, the new Regents policy is described by higher education Commissioner Kim Hunter Reed as reinstating the traditional policies; LSU interim leaders bowed and scraped but still argue “holistic” or “full-file” review enables admission based on other admissions factors than objective standards of academic achievement.
''LSU is pleased that the admissions guidelines continue to provide every public university in the state with the authority to conduct full-file reviews of applicants for admissions based on all relevant aspects of their background and experience, the high school grade-point averages, and their standardized test scores,'' interim LSU President Tom Galligan said in a statement read to the Board of Regents before the vote.
The new Regents policies depend on enforcement by a board that papered over last year’s controversy without penalty for LSU’s lawyerly deviation from firmer admission standards based on grades and ACT test scores. Further, the new policy provides modestly more exceptions on ACT scores and grade-point averages than before Alexander’s solo flight as admissions czar.
If LSU’s new interim leadership accepts the Regents compromise for now, the relationship between the LSU board and its peers is still in flux. The new Regents policy depends for enforcement on relations with the management boards like the LSU Board of Supervisors.
In political terms, the other management boards are torn over this issue. The University of Louisiana System is the largest in enrollment and does not want LSU poaching its better students with flexible admissions standards. For the moment, that might be blocked; the new rules appear aimed at getting in more Texans and other foreign students. With enrollment still a crisis, despite recent increases at Southern University in Baton Rouge, the SU Board of Supervisors probably wants flexibility if it can get it.
This affair comes as LSU’s board ponders a successor to Alexander. There is much discussion of splitting the job of president, overseeing relations with the Legislature and with far-flung campuses in the LSU system statewide, from that of chancellor, running the main campus.
Arguably, either structure can work. What is less promising is the explicit financial basis of Alexander’s holistic admissions, and that is that LSU can only pay the bills by expanding undergraduate enrollment.
The theory is that LSU is the state’s flagship public university. That means that it is a center of research and graduate studies as well as undergraduate education. Alexander said last year that every university is having trouble with graduate school enrollments, as competition — not least from UL schools around the state, in LSU’s case — has resulted from expanding popular programs like MBAs.
What’s a flagship? That definition was always a little fuzzy but for many faculty at LSU, essentially full-time teachers of tuition-paying undergraduates, there remains the concern that Alexander’s background at the California State system was focused on enrollment in those classes. That was probably unfair to Alexander, but if the research side feels undervalued, that’s another issue to face a new leader, or leaders, very soon.
There is also the problem of attracting new faculty. Does an academic star in any field want to come to LSU to teach undergraduates, with maybe one seminar of graduate students every couple of years? Other “flagships” might be able to offer more of the latter and less of the former.
There is no question that reduced state funding has made LSU dependent on tuition income. That’s the root of the evil, as Louisiana — along with other states — found other uses for its money than investing in the future, which is what college funding is.
Where does LSU go from here? Despite the new Regents policies, there are many more questions than answers.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.