Thankful Louisiana Higher Ed Survived

This is the second attempt at a post-election blog post. My first attempt was full of things I hoped that Governor-Elect John Bel Edwards would do to help higher education. But he has enough people around him telling him what to do. And I know for a fact that he is smart enough and tuned in enough to have some ideas on his own, that he has to balance against the needs an entire state that has suffered greatly under Bobby Jindal’s lack of leadership. While higher ed is pretty battered and bruised, right now we are collectively huddled on the thin ice near the shore of the budget lake, and there’s a big gaping hole in the middle that needs to be addressed first. I don’t think we’ll be pushed beyond where we are and into that abyss, at least not yet.

So instead, since it is Thanksgiving, I will share a few of the things that I am grateful for and things that I have hopes for.

I’m glad we’re still here. Our current governor fully intended for several of us to be closed or merged by now. One of the reasons that higher ed is in the mess it is in is because we were starved to the point where some of us should have closed. GRAD Act also was a rigged game where “certain” institutions, namely HBCUs and others whose missions are to serve underserved, at-risk students, were supposed to fail and instead of being helped to do better, would have appropriations cut so they’d have less money to try to improve. But we are a resilient bunch. We’ve bled lots of talent, particularly faculty. Institutions that used to be great places to work, well, aren’t any more. It’s really hard to recruit to Louisiana higher education right now. But those of us that are still here and standing, even though we’re broken, bleeding, and starved to the bone, have proven stronger than what’s been thrown at us. The love we have for our students and what we do is greater than the hate and disdain for anything serving a public good and purpose that wished to destroy us. Hate will never win over love.

I’m glad our universities are once again able to admit and serve underserved students, particularly African American high school graduates that were being shut out of higher ed. That was a fight that I was proud to be a part of. I wouldn’t have been able to do that on my own–this past legislative session, higher ed leaders and legislators took up that cause–but in my own little piece of the battle I waged I took on Bobby Jindal the Great and Powerful and won. Oz ended up being less a wizard than an overly self-assured guy from Baton Rouge flashing lots of smoke and mirrors. And I wasn’t the one who won, actually–our students won. A study that was just released this week found that fewer low income students are going to college nationally than they were before the recession–here in Louisiana it wasn’t just because they suffered under some of the highest tuition increases in the nation–it was also because they weren’t able to be admitted at all, and as I saw first hand, more went no where than to community colleges.

I’m glad schools weren’t at more risk at losing their accreditation. While there are lots of things that can get a school in trouble, two things place schools at extremely high risk. One is to violate basic academic integrity–a high profile example is University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill over academic fraud involving its athletes. But the far more common one these days is financial instability, particularly among HBCUs. That’s where you usually see schools go on probation and often eventually lose their accreditation, effectively forcing them to close since accreditation is required to award federal financial aid to students. Collectively, if we got cut any more than we have been, we’d see that process start to happen in some of our institutions. And if we got the 82% cut that we came within 90 minutes of getting? I can almost guarantee that it would have been on our accreditors’ radar screens.

I’m glad I’m still here, and that I still have a career in higher ed. I thought when I started this blog, that I’d get found out by someone in the Jindal administration and be fired or asked to resign. I was a little scared, but even more angry. I felt that if didn’t put myself out there and do everything I could in my own limited power and range of influence to fight Bobby Jindal’s agenda, especially since I had done years of work dissecting exactly what he did and how it worked on the policy level in higher ed, that the damage that would be done this legislative session would be so irrevocable that Louisiana’s woefully undereducated population would be denied access to affordable higher education for years if not decades. Instead, at times I found things that I either started here or within my previous school’s administration get talked about and even acted on. Also, just days after the 2015 legislative session ended, my spouse had a serious health crisis that forced me to resign my job, which was in another city from where we actually live. Again, I was willing to give it all up if I had to. But just as soon as I resigned, another job opportunity opened up. While maybe it was just coincidence or being in the right place at the right time, I believe that God had His hand on me and protected my family and me during a really difficult time both personally and professionally.

I’m glad we won’t have an enemy in the Governor’s Mansion anymore. My spouse and I have talked about leaving Louisiana and at times even the US. Due to his recent health crisis, his job has been in jeopardy as well. And I didn’t think I had it in me to fight another fight with another governor, and while Jindal and Vitter may not like each other personally, Vitter’s base ideology was no different than Jindal’s. I’ve discussed his higher ed plans here and they would have involved more cost-cutting commissions, more GRAD Act, more of what we need no more of. But John Bel Edwards was elected instead, and my spouse was also able to regain the health eligibility he needs to do his job, again within days of each other. So we’re sticking around a little while longer.

While I know it is going to be an uphill battle, particularly since the forces that put Jindal in power and let him do what he did to our state will fight Edwards at every turn, at least now they won’t have a willing partner in turning our state into a Randian dystopia where government is defunded so everything gets privatized.

I do have one small request of the Edwards administration, beyond restoring some of our funding. Let GRAD Act die. Please.

Have a happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

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