A Little History Lesson #1 – The 1994 Higher Education Desegregation Agreement in Louisiana

A few months ago, I was at the annual conference for a state higher education organization that I belong to. As usual, staffers from our Board of Regents addressed our group to give us legislative and policy updates that impact us on our campuses.

Unlike the relationship that my secondary education counterparts have with the snakehandlers at the Louisiana Department of Education, staff at the Board of Regents have remained dedicated to helping campuses–even if we are also really scared of them–and have also maintained their body of institutional knowledge. They’ve circled the wagons in the Claiborne Building around higher ed as best they can even though weapons of mass implosion are aimed squarely at us. How they can enforce GRAD Act (which basically means that they have to kill us by statute whether they want to or not), and deal with the revolving door in the Commissioner’s office (ever since longtime commissioner E. Joseph Savoie went back home across the Basin to turn sleepy UL Lafayette into a powerhouse) is beyond me.

I guess they figure that they might as well stay this one out since Jindal is the one with term limits, not them… and hope like hell that there’s any higher education left for them to oversee by the time he goes off to tilt at the White House.

Anyhow, they had a lot to talk about this year, mostly revolving around the Schroder legislation protecting identifiable student information from being shipped off to every Tom, Dick, and InBloom. However, it will also impact TOPS awards as well as the ability of institutions to access State Transcript System transcripts for admission purposes (Thanks, John White! No one trusts you with their data so now no one else can have them either!).

But one thing really stood out to me but I guess few if any others in the room realized it. I don’t even remember any more what the context was. But the discussion turned to the higher education Master Plan and how the state transitioned from open to selective admissions beginning in the 1990s in order to better ensure student success.

“That’s not the whole reason why,” I whispered to the person next to me. “They didn’t even mention the Deseg Agreement.”

Totally written out of the history. Not mentioned at all except for a random footnote here and there buried in older Board of Regents documents.

Why do we still have separate boards? The Desegregation Agreement.

Why are the universities separated into “tiers” (flagship, statewide and regional)? The Desegregation Agreement.

Why do we have “admissions by exception”? The Desegregation Agreement.

All clearly stated in the 2001 Master Plan for Higher Education. It is directly cited ten times in this document.

Gone by the most recent one. It might as well never existed.

I will be the first to admit that the Desegregation Agreement was flawed and at its heart, political. Anything that Edwin Edwards had anything to do with was. Many commentators at the time and since believed that it simply maintained the status quo and that the state would not be able to afford to adequately fund its HBCUs (where lack of funding had been buried before the agreement), build new community colleges and maintain the rest of the higher education system as it was with the resources that it had. Especially coming off the oil bust of the 80s that was certainly a valid argument. And many of Bob Mann’s Seven Proposed Reforms for Higher Education–whether you agree with them or not–address vestiges of the Desegregation Agreement.

And in retrospect, it makes GRAD Act even more brilliant. Brilliantly evil. The Deseg Agreement left higher education vulnerable to implosion under its own weight. All it needed was a straw or two after the agreement expired. Enough of the facade was left in place while the foundation and infrastructure were dismantled, beam by beam. A budget cut (or three, or ten) here, an enrollment drop there, an unexpected drop in oil prices, and it would go BOOM.

Preferably while Jindal was in Iowa or New Hampshire or something.

The Desegregation Agreement was flawed and didn’t fully achieve its goal. GRAD Act is perfectly designed other than the fact that it too will expire if it isn’t extended this legislative session.

All the damage it’s done is intentional.

In my next post I’m pasting a paper I wrote in 2003 about the Desegregation Agreement, one year after I came to Louisiana and was enrolled in a doctoral level higher ed law class.

Some of the things I wrote I wouldn’t write today after 13 years in Louisiana higher education. But some of it is eerily prescient.

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One thought on “A Little History Lesson #1 – The 1994 Higher Education Desegregation Agreement in Louisiana

  1. Pingback: The State Minimum University Admission Criteria: The Game the House Always Wins (Part 2 of 3 in a series) | LA Higher Ed Confessions

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