Monday, November 07, 2011

The Big Game vs. the budget game

Jeré Longman of The New York Times, by my reckoning, was seven years ahead of me at Louisiana State University.

He was a working-class kid from Cajun country. My daddy worked long decades at the Esso refinery and Enjay Chemicals in Baton Rouge -- now Exxon-Mobil but forever Standard Oil to my hometown.

We both worked on The Daily Reveille at LSU. He went all the way to the
Times. Me, not so much.

But in a wonderful essay in Friday's newspaper, he speaks for me and for God knows how many other alumni for whom the Ole War Skule opened up worlds that were closed to our parents, and did it at a price good country folk and Baton Rouge plant workers could afford.

SOMETHING had to be said, and bless Longman's heart for saying it to the world:
I am forever grateful to L.S.U. for the opportunities given to me and countless other rural children, many of us the first in our families to attend college or graduate. Yet, 35 years after leaving campus, I worry that football success has obscured L.S.U.’s escalating academic ambition and its struggle to maintain excellence over the past three years in the face of about $50 million in state appropriation cuts and the loss of a tenth of its faculty.

“If we sent the football team out with only 10 players, how would people feel?” said John M. Hamilton, L.S.U.’s executive vice chancellor and provost.

Let’s be clear: budget cuts are not the football team’s fault. L.S.U. has one of the few self-sustaining athletic departments. It does not use state tax dollars or student fees. Instead, the athletic department contributes 5 percent of its budget to the university annually — about $4.25 million at this point — and has spent millions to help finance a band hall and business school.

There is nothing like Saturday nights at Tiger Stadium. Tailgating summons the best of Cajun culture — geniality, cooking and storytelling. And football success buoys a state sagging under the weight of poverty, educational lethargy and high rates of cancer, obesity and infant mortality.

“When we’re No. 1, it’s usually for something bad,” an L.S.U. fan named Rudy Penton once told me.
DO GEAUX NOW and read the whole thing.

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