LSU needs reorganization
by Sam Hanna, Jr. - posted Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012 @ 1:17 pm
Earlier this year when La. Tech University was making a play to take over LSU-Shreveport, discussion surfaced in some private conversations about not only the future of the Shreveport campus, but about the future of the entire LSU system as well.
There were disagreements, but it was clearly understood the state's Flagship University must be preserved and positioned to stand out as an example of the best Louisiana has to offer. No ifs, ands or buts.
When we speak of LSU, we often make the mistake of thinking solely of the main campus in Baton Rouge, forgetting there's far more to LSU than those beautiful buildings with their terracotta roofs and majestic Southern Oaks abound just off the Mississippi River in the state's capital city. Far more, in fact.
Besides the main campus, there's the LSU law school, the two medical schools – New Orleans and Shreveport – and outlying campuses in Alexandria, Eunice and Shreveport.
Let's not forget about the LSU AgCenter and its presence in literally every parish in the state. And who could forget about the Pennington Biomedical Research Center on Perkins Road in Baton Rouge? Certainly vital components of LSU's Tier One research status.
All of them compose the LSU system and supposedly answer to the system president. Ultimately, though, they all answer to the LSU Board of Supervisors whose members are appointed by the governor. And that means the board answers to the governor.
But each institution in the LSU system has its own chancellor or president, myriad administrators and their own budget.
Therein lies the rub.
For a number of years, it's been suggested the LSU system would be better served to reorganize under a single chancellor/president operating from the main campus in Baton Rouge. He, or she, would oversee operations and staffs of each institution that composes the LSU system. But in Louisiana, budgets equal fiefdoms. And fiefdoms equal political clout for the bureaucrats who ride herd over those institutions. Tinker with the fiefdoms and you'll encounter resistance. Outright upheaval occasionally.
There are two primary arguments in favor of reorganizing management of LSU under a single chancellor/president.
No. 1, reorganization would vastly strengthen LSU's standing in the rankings of the nation's best colleges and universities such as the prestigious list U.S. News and World Report publishes each year. We're told LSU would get credit for all of the good work that's done at Pennington, the AgCenter, the medical schools and points elsewhere if the institutions operated under a single chancellor/president. Currently, LSU doesn't enjoy those benefits because each institution has autonomy.
No. 2, we're told reorganization would save millions of dollars because a unified LSU would not necessarily need to employ as many decision makers and additional staff at each institution. People cost money. Lots of it.
While we would like to believe LSU's consideration of a reorganization is being driven by the desire to position the university as a legitimate top 50 institution nationally, we must recognize LSU has no choice but to explore all means to make do with the scarce dollars it currently receives from the state. After all, LSU has undergone more than $100 million in cuts in state funding over the past five years thanks to a downturn on the financial front at the Capitol. It's worth noting, though, that the university was granted the authority to raise tuition to offset cuts in funding from the state. In other words, students are being forced to pick up the tab to help keep LSU afloat.
As discussions about reorganizing LSU move forward, we'll hear plenty of griping about why the university should maintain the status quo. We'll hear accusations about Gov. Bobby Jindal supposedly playing a heavy hand in the matter. We'll also hear career bureaucrats and their friends on the academic front predict a single chancellor/president won't lend a sympathetic ear to the wants and needs of the outlying institutions, including the medical schools and Pennington.
Pay close attention to who does the complaining.
Then ask yourself one question.
What's best for LSU?
The answer to that question is very simple.
Reorganize and move on to bigger and better things because the Flagship University plays a vital role in moving Louisiana forward.