Thursday, May 30, 2013

The quadrangle of broken dreams

Since I had given up hope, I felt a whole lot better.

And since I had been feeling a whole lot better, I hadn't been writing much about the perils of the Pelican State lately. For one thing, I'm a Nebraskan originally from Louisiana, not a Louisianian who has to put up with that s***  anymore. For another thing, if people in Louisiana were willing to listen to a little common sense, they wouldn't be in the perpetual mess that is their lot in life, apparently.

Finally, it's not like I'm planning on moving back.

But I was asked to write a guest post about Louisiana's woes being a matter of culture and not politics -- always remember . . . culture precedes politics -- for LSU journalism professor Robert Mann's excellent blog, so I opened up a vein, and there you go.

IT WAS the least I could do for someone at my alma mater, filled as it is with faculty and staff busting their asses to give Louisianians more education than they're willing to pay for, as well as a better flagship university than the state deserves. Like Rhett Butler, apparently, they've "always had a weakness for lost causes once they're really lost." 

And the experts say, as J.R. Ball outlines in the Greater Baton Rouge Business Report, that LSU's national cause really is lost, thanks to an indifferent public and an execrable pile of politicians befouling the capitol that Huey built:
Connect the reality dots discussed during the meeting and it's clear LSU's situation will get worse before it begins—hopefully—to get better. LSU is not a top 100 school in the U.S. News & World Report list, nor is it in the top 100 on the more respected National Science Foundation rankings. The current trajectory is research grants are declining dramatically as top faculty, tired of an institution held together by duct tape and rubber bands, are leaving for universities in states where higher education is actually taken seriously.

All of which makes reaching the goal of LSU2015—transforming the state's flagship institution into a nationally recognized research university able to attract and retain the world's best academic and research talent—about as likely as finding Bo Rein's plane in the Atlantic Ocean.

Jim Firnberg, a member of the committee and a former consultant for the NSF, says LSU should focus on six research areas where it has a legitimate chance to compete nationally—environmental science and coastal research, biomedical sciences, energy, arts and humanities, computation and digital media, and natural and renewable resources. Yet, he warns, the tomorrow of LSU becoming a top 50 research university will never come. At best, LSU could become a top 75 institution.

Putting that in sports terms—which seems to be the only thing associated with education that people in this state understand—LSU will never be a BCS-caliber academic school; the best it can hope for is mid-major status.

Just one day after this somber reminder of LSU's place in the world of higher education, a bid to end almost 20 years of tuition control by the Legislature died when the same elected officials who, over the past six years, have cut some $650 million in higher education funding, did not see the need to give university boards the right to increase tuition rates that, by national standards, are pathetically low. In other words, the actions of Gov. Bobby Jindal and legislators are loudly telling university leaders they need to find a way to operate with minimal state subsidies, but legislators aren't about to let them do it with much-needed tuition hikes.

We now have a new definition for “moronic.”

Even with the most optimistic Jindal-backed accounting method, higher education has been whacked some $300 million over the past six years, much of that absorbed by LSU. Yet we hear nothing from those wielding the ax about the resulting job losses, or the fact that higher education is supposed to be the key to our economic success in a world powered by knowledge, research and creativity. When officials at LSU and other state universities complain, those who complain too loudly are eased out of their jobs and those that remain are told to shut up and figure it out.
AND INDIGNANT Louisianians say I hate the Not-So-Great State. Whatever lets you sleep at night, man. Whatever lets you sleep at night.

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