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State higher education commissioner Jim Purcell. (Special to the American Press)<br>

State higher education commissioner Jim Purcell. (Special to the American Press)

Beam: Regents should defend Purcell

Last Modified: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 7:17 PM

By Jim Beam / American Press

If you aren’t a “yes man” — or woman — there is no place for you in the administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal. Anyone who doubts that need only ask the dozen or more top state officials who have either been ushered out or gave up in total frustration.

The dictionary defines a “yes man” as “a person who agrees with everything that is said, especially one who endorses or supports without criticism every opinion or proposal of an associate or superior.”

Jim Purcell, the state’s higher education commissioner, is the latest target of the Jindal assassins. The governor wants Purcell out because he questioned Jindal’s proposed budget for the year beginning July 1. The commissioner said the use of one-time money and funds dependent on future actions makes it difficult for colleges and universities to carry out their responsibilities.

Other higher education officials have been victims of the governor’s retribution, although some of them had too much class to place the blame for their leaving where it belonged. A few simply retired or moved on to better opportunities, obviously tired of fighting losing battles over budget cuts. Here are some examples:

Randy Moffett, former president of the University of Louisiana System, retired last fall after asking the state Board of Regents to suspend its performance-based funding formula because of continued budget cuts. Moffett went quietly, but he was definitely a victim of an administration that has zero tolerance for dissent.

The LSU Board of Supervisors fired John Lombardi, its system president, before his contract expired. He, too, was critical of budget cuts, but gave Jindal forces a convenient excuse because of his outspoken and abrasive remarks.

Michael Martin, chancellor of LSU’s Baton Rouge campus, left to head the Colorado State University System. He didn’t make a lot of noise about leaving, but it was obvious he was fed up with budget cuts to the state’s flagship university.

LSU-Alexandria lost its chancellor, David Martin, after he complained of budget cuts. Martin became president of Drury University in Springfield, Mo.

Those who look at this issue with open minds know that Purcell is only doing the job he was hired to do. Legislators from Jindal’s own Republican Party have had the courage to defend the commissioner’s performance.

Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, is among that number. Other Republicans defending Purcell are Reps. Jim Morris of Oil City, John Schroder of Covington, Cameron Henry of Metairie, Lance Harris of Alexandria and Rogers Pope of Denham Springs.

Geymann said it is unacceptable to have leaders like Purcell removed because the governor doesn’t like the information they are providing to legislators. He said Purcell ought to be able to do his job without being presssured and intimidated.

“They’ve got to be able to come forward and be honest with us. They’ve got to,” Geymann said. “They shouldn’t be able to feel like they can’t speak honestly.”

Morris said, “This episode represents the latest in a string of exceptionally poor decisions by the governor and his staff. Having a staffer attempt to influence an independent academic board is just not acceptable.”

The agency he is talking about is the state Board of Regents that hired Purcell two years ago. Now, his future is in its hands. And the board chairman didn’t flinch when asked whether the regents had been approached.

Clinton “Bubba” Rasberry said, “I’ve gotten messages, yes. I’ve certainly been made to understand they’re unhappy with Dr. Purcell.”

To his credit, Rasberry added, “From my perspective, the numbers and analysis of the budget that Dr. Purcell has done I perceive to be the truth.”

The six legislators told The Advocate they have “reliable” information that Jindal recently sent Deputy Chief of Staff Taylor Teepell to talk to members of the Board of Regents about removing Purcell from office.

Members of the governor’s team are famous for turning criticism around to their advantage and to justify their questionable actions. Even though it’s unwise budgeting, they say they use one-time money and uncertain funds in order to protect higher education. Unfortunately, higher education has to deal with mid-year cuts during the next fiscal year when the money doesn’t materialize.

It took just a few words to know how the governor feels about Purcell’s courage to speak the truth.

Sean Lansing, a Jindal spokesman, said in a statement, “We think he’s done a poor job, but that is up to the Board of Regents.”

Political observers know what that latter statement means. The governor appointed everyone on the board, except its student representative, and he expects the regents to fall in line like almost everyone else does.

Geymann and Morris gave up legislative perks in order to be completely independent. We can only hope the regents are willing to put their own appointments on the line in order to do the right thing. Purcell has done nothing that deserves his ouster.

• • •

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 jbeam@americanpress.com

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