“Our Views: Research and clean jobs neglected in Louisiana” was a welcome opinion piece on the connection between research support and economic development. Although the editorial focused on the lack of support for LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center, it is generally applicable to all other institutions within LSU. I served as the vice president for research and economic development at the LSU main campus in Baton Rouge for six years, and I have witnessed firsthand how inadequate support for research has affected the morale of faculty, staff and students who valiantly carry on the research mission at the university.
When the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge was new, it was a scandal.
The editorial blamed the lack of support on Louisiana's political leadership. However, I point out that the political leadership generally responds to the administrative leadership of the institutions who are tasked with advocating for such support. The latter is only possible if the administration is truly visionary and also has firsthand experience in carrying out competitive research at the highest level. I served under two previous provosts who placed heavy emphasis on the research mission in spite of the lack of adequate state support on recruiting the best faculty, staff and graduate students who carry out world-class research.
Research is a financial drain on the institution, but its fruits are the economic driver for the state and nation. Without significant investments in growing the research faculty and staff, LSU will not be able to effectively compete with its peers. This is clear from the fact that while LSU was holding steady as a Carnegie Tier 1-Highest Research Active university, our peers such as the University of Alabama and Auburn University, who were not in that group previously, gained this designation last year through sustained investments in research.
LSU is tied for No. 153rd among national universities, according to a 2020 survey by U.S. News & World Report released Sunday night.
LSU faculty and staff have been valiantly upholding their end of the bargain during this time, as reflected in the fact that LSU had its highest-ever research expenditures three years ago. On the main campus, many large multidisciplinary proposals have received funding since that was a focus of the research office. Growth in the research portfolio can only happen if more investments are made in recruiting research-intensive faculty, staff and graduate students. At the present time, such a focus is not evident. As a result, in spite of touting our rankings improvements such as the Washington Monthly, Times Higher Education/Wall Street Journal etc., the overall status of LSU as a research-intensive university is still a far cry from reality among national rankings based solely on research and creative activities. With only slight increases in state funding for research initiatives, LSU can make large strides in its ranking. The Legislature, governor, Board of Regents and the Board of Supervisors should focus on such a priority if LSU is to improve its standing among national peers.
professor of chemical engineering