Due to Louisiana higher education’s Crisis du Jour, which theoretically could have been avoided but we knew was all but unavoidable effective the end of Bobby Jindal’s term as Magician-in-Chief, I spent most of the day today alternating between dispiritedness and outright despair.
It’s not because I am afraid for myself but for our state. I could care less if I am furloughed or not but I do care about the impact on everyone else in higher education – faculty, staff and students. Governor John Bel Edwards says he doesn’t want to cut higher education, but due to our state constitution and our priorities as a state it doesn’t matter if he means it or not–we have few other options. We are in this mess because Louisiana has proven that it does not value higher education. We say we do, but if we really valued it, it would not be the only part of the state budget that is completely vulnerable to mid-year cuts. We are completely and totally discretionary.
Even health care gained some constitutional protections in 2014. Higher education has NONE.
So while some bitch and moan about how out of control TOPS has gotten (which got out of control simply because tuition is now paying for what state appropriations used to), or opines once again that we have too many universities (something which has been soundly refuted, by the way) remember that the approximately $1 billion higher education costs our state ($750 million in appropriations + $250 million in TOPS) is less than 5% of our entire $25 billion state budget.
We in higher education are not the problem.
But constitutionally, we are the only solution, year after year after year.
And the budgetary hole we are now in is TWICE what higher education costs the state a year.
We need to address the Untouchable parts of the budget.
Everything needs to be on the table.
And we need more revenue. Simple as that. Bitch and moan too about taxes, but we just saw the biggest tax giveaway in our state’s history and what did it get us?
We’re still poor.
Our state’s economy lags behind the rest of the nation, and did before oil collapsed.
And the thing that was supposed to guard our state, particularly higher education and health care, from the vagarities of the oil market–Stelly–is long gone, along with the surpluses that went with it.
If we value higher education, we need to sustain it and protect it.
If we don’t, then why care if LSU has to cancel hundreds of classes and lay off hundreds of people?
Or if the thousands of people Sen. Jack Donahue was afraid would be walking the streets unemployed in July of last year start walking the streets unemployed in February of this year instead.