As an alumnus and former member of the LSU engineering faculty, I am distressed to learn about the controversy surrounding the ACT scores and student admission. The open-door policy of the past, and this is a step in that direction, did not serve the university or the student well.
We were admitting students into engineering programs that would require, in many instances, 8 years to get a bachelor of science degree. Teaching remedial courses demanded time that should have been used to promote richer programs for those students who were prepared for college. We welcomed the setting of standards that promoted the preparation of students to be accomplished at the high school and community college level. LSU was struggling to become the state’s pre-eminent university and to be recognized nationally. Setting higher standards was a step toward that goal. Lowering standards is a step backward. ACT scores as a test for student readiness for college is under serious scrutiny across the academic spectrum. The Wall Street Journal on Oct. 18 reported that the annual ACT report shows a decline in college readiness. That, in my opinion, is not a university problem; it is a problem for those institutions preparing students for college or some other path to a career. Lowering admission standards in any way is wrong, and indicates a leaning toward progressive liberalism. The university must maintain a level of independence from ideological trends and political expediency.
LSU is the flagship university for Louisiana and should be building an infrastructure and providing the vision for multidisciplinary programs that necessarily traverse traditional academic boundaries. Good programs within any university establish and encourage the spread of excellence: they serve as role models that challenge other programs to reach beyond their limits and dare to be excellent. They create and nurture opportunities for development within the university and within the state that would not otherwise be available. Great progress has been made, but LSU is still not ranked in the top 100 universities of the nation — there are still problems to solve and lowering standards in any way does not help solve them.
When the academic programs are cited with the same pride that follows the athletic program, we might say that they have “arrived.” These beacons of excellence will serve as role models for programs that may not yet have the resources or strategic advantages to achieve pre-eminence, but nonetheless, aspire to raise their standards and to reach for excellence. Success breeds success; pre-eminence begets pre-eminence. If any action is taken let it be to raise the standards and if that is impossible don’t do anything to lower those currently in place.
Charles A. Whitehurst
professor emeritus, consulting engineer
Albuquerque, New Mexico