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Beam: Higher education needs our help

Last Modified: Thursday, December 12, 2013 11:34 AM

By Jim Beam / American Press

Higher education in Louisiana has been victimized by the Bobby Jindal administration over the last six years, and the Legislature has been a willing accomplice. The governor and his spokesmen always come up with excuses in their efforts to discredit the critics, but they fall far short of justification.

The loss of the state’s two major higher education leaders speaks volumes about the sad state of funding. Jim Purcell, commissioner of higher education, won’t seek to have his contract renewed when it expires in March. Joe May, who heads the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, announced in October he had accepted a job as leader of the Dallas Community College District.

Those are going to be difficult shoes to fill. Both men were diplomatic about their reasons for departing, but you know down deep they can’t be happy about the sad state of affairs in higher education.

Purcell never hesitated to speak his mind, and Jindal wanted him fired because of it. The state Board of Regents refused to be bullied and instead gave Purcell what was described as “a glowing performance review.”

May directed a system that has grown from 46,000 to 70,000 students. Seven of its 13 schools were among the fastest growing institutions in the country.

Legislators have gone along with Jindal and cut some $700 million from higher education budgets. Universities are hurting financially and losing faculty, cutting programs and increasing class sizes.

Higher education institutions are also facing a possible cash flow problem. It’s because the Jindal administration and the Legislature used uncertain financing plans to bolster university budgets. And no one was surprised when Kristy Nichols, the governor’s commissioner of administration, said she is confident everything is going to work out OK and the money will materialize.

It may, but that is no way to put together a state budget. A state district court judge in November ruled that the administration and legislators shouldn’t have balanced the state’s budget by taking dollars from a retirement fund for probation and parole officers. Nichols said there would be no immediate impact and believed the state Supreme Court would overturn the ruling.

Maybe it will, but House Clerk Butch Speer warned there would be serious consequences if other agencies that lost money went to the courts for similar rulings. Jindal and lawmakers have been raiding similar funds for years. You wouldn’t believe how the governor and legislators have managed to shift money around in devious fashions.

Purcell warned legislators during the session that cash flow could be a problem down the line. However, like Jindal, they ignored his warnings. The administration rejects bad news in any shape or form. It has a Pollyanna attitude, believing its way is the only way and everything is right with the world.

The truth is higher education is going to take years to recover from the Jindal legacy. And that is especially distasteful after his two predecessors took so many positive steps for colleges and universities.

Former Gov. Mike Foster (1996-2004) backed creation of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. Kirby Goidel, director of LSU’s Manship School Research Facility, in 2012 said, “... Foster became a surprising and ardent champion of higher education and invested heavily in the state’s colleges and universities. Kathleen Blanco followed suit.”

Blanco (2004-2008) made history by fully funding Louisiana’s colleges and universities for the first time in more than a quarter of a century. She expanded higher education’s research capacity and passed the state’s first substantial college need-based aid program.

Jindal and his public relations machinery will be quick to deny higher education has been hurt. We will hear about higher graduation rates, tuition hikes making up most of the budget cuts and future plans to increase higher education funding. But the facts speak otherwise.

The Times-Picayune reported Dec. 5 that data from the American Association of Colleges and Universities showed Louisiana made the most drastic cuts in higher education in the nation for the current fiscal year — a 17.6 percent reduction. West Virginia was second at 8.9 percent. Meanwhile, three-fourths of the states have increased their higher education funding.

Once again, a Jindal spokesman discredited the information. Kyle Plotkin said the study had a narrow focus and that Louisiana spent more than 33 other states per capita on higher education. So, it comes down to a question of whom do you believe? You can answer that one on your own.

Don’t take our word for the damage that has been done to Louisiana higher education. Ask college and university officials and the people who work in those areas. They have to talk to you off the record to protect their jobs because the Jindal administration has no room for dissent.

Those of us who have benefited immensely from a college education have to speak up for those who can’t. Both McNeese State University and LSU had a major impact on my life, and I want others to enjoy the same opportunities I had. Education is a guaranteed ticket to a better life.

• • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or

Posted By: Pearson Cross On: 3/6/2014

Title: Professor

I just saw this. Nothing but the truth.

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