It’s Not Just Bobby Jindal’s Higher Ed Legacy

I have mostly gone silent here. My last blog of any substance resonated with a few, because I think I captured the grief and resignation of many of us in Louisiana higher education. While I didn’t declare game over, I did indicate that we were playing a much different game, and a dangerous one at that. Higher education in Louisiana will never be the same. That wouldn’t be a bad thing if it was going to be for the better. But it’s not.

I am also a media junkie who prides myself in keeping up with the latest developments on higher education, the state budget, and politics in general. Like many I was stunned by the results of the presidential election. But in the last few weeks I’ve even stopped consuming most media. I’ve seen a few things in passing but there’s nothing new about the latest budget crisis, and nothing surprising about LSU saying that TOPS cuts are affecting enrollment. The annual Higher Education Begging for Legislative Alms has also started. I wouldn’t have needed to see these things in the media to be able to tell you that because if you know the disease, you’ll know the symptoms.

Other than a few retweets I’m mostly silent now on Twitter too.

Silent doesn’t mean disengaged.

Silent doesn’t mean I’ve stopped caring.

Silent doesn’t mean I’m not fighting, even if it is from deep within my soul now.

I am very still and listening. And watching. And processing all the input. Some from data. Some from observations. Some from insights. Some from my heart.

My heart is beating harder and more strangely than I recall in recent memory. Even more so than when I was actively fighting against the policies of the Jindal administration. Because taking on the battles is nothing new to me. It’s in my DNA. It’s what I do. I see a wrong, I fight it, and sometimes I even win and the wrong gets righted. End of story.

But this is something different.

This is the heart of a prophet who warned, and warned, and warned.

And few if any listened.

And the prophecies are coming true. But like all true and good prophets, I stayed behind to try and warn the stragglers who were left.

And now I’m stuck in the edifice I said was going to collapse. And still not leaving. I’m not technically trapped, but there are still a few people in here with me so I stay for them.

And so I sit, and watch, and listen. In silence. Because only in silence can you hear everything.

I hear the murmurs. I sense the unsaid fears.

I hear the cries of people being abused and berated and belittled to meet unreasonable goals, which are not really goals – they’re the benchmarks for survival of their departments, or institutions, or the whole state higher education system, but they are now slipping beyond everyone’s reach.

I see people I never thought would leave Louisiana, leave.

I see people I never thought would give up on higher education altogether, give up. People whose entire lives and identities were built around what we do for students, for our state, and for each other. For some they are actually giving up on themselves as a result.

I see the grabs for the scraps of what is left. They look like typical power grabs but they’re not. They are of the starving leveraging what little power they do have to make sure they stay fed at the expense of others, so that they can keep their positions and careers intact as long as they can until they get their tickets out themselves. It’s about survival.

I’m starting to see students give up on us.

In the silence, I watch and hear the cracks spreading across the foundation, and bits of debris raining down like sawdust. I warned about a multi-institutional collapse of historic proportions. It is happening.

In slow motion.

And I am in pain. So much pain. Because all I can do is watch, and listen, and feel.

And I don’t leave. I can’t. It’s not because I can’t get another job. It’s because of my heart.

I can’t fix this. I can barely bandage the wounds of the broken and bloodied. In fact, some even lash out at me and push that help away because they don’t trust that I’m not going to hurt them too. And I can’t blame them for that.

In fact, where I sit, I am witnessing in horror one person’s life crumble apart no thanks to the sickness that pervades Louisiana higher education. Not just job or career, but life – at the very essence of who this person is or at least has always believed that they are. This may be one of the most talented and knowledgeable people I’ve known from my 20 years of higher ed. This person is trying to escape but can’t, in part – no, mostly – because of the damage that was done here. It isn’t fair. I want to shoo the vultures away before there’s nothing left to pick at but the shell of someone who may soon be discarded like trash, but this person won’t let me risk myself to do that. I might still before it’s over, to hell with what this person says. Because what is life if we aren’t willing to risk it all for others?

What this person is going though is just a symptom. It is abuse, but it is more than that, far beyond that. This one person could be one of many in Louisiana higher education – the only difference is in degree and the speed of the decay. If you are silent and listen and watch, you probably see someone like this where you are as well. Maybe more than one. Maybe even many.

Higher education is about giving. We give people a chance at a better life. We give people the ability and tools to think and perceive and do and know. We perpetuate and grow our culture and body of knowledge. We give humanity.

But here it’s turning into something else.

This isn’t just Bobby Jindal’s legacy.

This is ours.

With every cut, with every refusal to fund this thing, with every legislator saying, “but my constituents won’t do this” and being dead on right because they will say no – we own this.

Higher education in Louisiana isn’t a heap of rubble yet. There are bright spots. There are places that will survive.

But survive… as what?

I watch.

I listen.

I feel.

I grieve.

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