Editorial: Who will step forward to be LSU’s friend?

How LSU is faring seems to depend on the day.

One day the state’s flagship university seems to be foundering, on the rocks.

Interim Chancellor William Jenkins told

the schools Transition Advisory Team on Tuesday that LSU was “at the

tipping point”

of losing its coveted top-tier status in U.S. News & World

Report’s annual ratings. The Advocate reported Jenkins expressed

fear that peer universities are losing their high regard for LSU,

which has suffered along with other state universities with

massive funding cutbacks.

Sounds ominous.

In Lake Charles on Thursday, LSU representatives seemed more guarded in their outlook. The campus is trying to “streamline”

its operations, they said, trying to meet budget challenging times with new strategies.

“The university is managing to be efficient in these very tough, frugal financial times,” said Provost Stuart R. Bell. “We

can’t allow those budget reductions to devastate the university, so we’ll work hard to do the very best that we can within

those circumstances.”

Sounds determined.

Speaking at that meeting, Laura

Lindsay, dean of the College of Human Sciences and Education, said six

units had been combined

under her college, a change that reflected new thinking about

scant resources. “That was part of prior budget cuts that we’ve

had to address at the university — working together, this had made

it a more powerful, a more exciting college.”

Sounds hopeful.

But Louisiana State University’s future

will depend upon more than realignments, more than moxie. It will

require state funding,

state commitment. State funding for higher education has dropped

by some $600 million since 2008, faculty positions have been

cut, researchers have left, grants have gone.

So what does all that mean for LSU, a

source of state pride and the premier destination for many of

Louisiana’s top high school

graduates? LSU first earned top-tier status in the U.S. News &

World Report rankings in 2007, yet ranks behind most of its

Southeastern Conference counterparts. Each year, it slips back a

few notches.

Cutbacks have taxed the resourcefulness of LSU’s leadership. It’s likely some changes have been for the good, have protected

taxpayer investment in LSU by trimming unnecessary programs and expenses.

But we Louisianians should miss those heady, pre-2008 days when all the buzz was about LSU’s growth and its future. That sort

of talk is scarce these days; nowadays, LSU’s goal seems to center on stopping the bleeding, on holding on to diminishing

resources.

The state’s elected leadership, in

allocating state funding for LSU and all state campuses, is reflecting

its priorities.

How will those state leaders be remembered? Will they be recorded

as friends of our campuses, which reflect what is best in

our state? Or as something else?

Sounds uncertain.

• • •

This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney,

Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.