Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Myths Professors Live By

A Challenge to Louisiana Faculty
By Dayne Sherman
4/14/13 - Words: 800
Published in several newspapers.

I am a tenured associate professor at an unnamed Louisiana university. I do not speak for the institution now or in the hundreds of published stories, articles, essays, op-eds, and letters that I have written.

Though I love universities, I am often saddened by the apathy and lack of civic engagement by faculty in Louisiana. It seems quite clear that the average professor is uninformed, apathetically unengaged, or fear-bound.

Some critics of Louisiana education say our students are equally lethargic. I do not believe this. But one thing is certain: Louisiana’s college degree attainment is abysmal, 21 percent as compared to 28 percent nationally. The ranking does not bode well for the future of the state.

Perhaps the answer to Louisiana’s low college graduation rate and alleged student lethargy is a more engaged faculty. I think students will be inspired and strive for excellence when their professors become examples of authentic leadership—community members willing to defend their institutions from debilitating budget cuts that threaten the viability of higher education across the state. 

However, four commonly held myths hamper faculty engagement. These false assumptions strengthen Governor Jindal’s malevolent stranglehold on college funding.

Myth No.1: Nothing can be done to stop the governor from gutting higher education. This is a foundational myth in Louisiana. If nothing can be done, then there is no reason to risk rocking the boat with an op-ed or letter to the editor, a visit to a local legislator’s office, or publicly criticizing Jindal’s insane and backward status quo policies.

The legislative session began on April 8. Legislators will protect higher education if and when they understand that they will not be reelected if they fail to do so. They will act only after we act. But fatalism prevents faculty from fighting, and with Jindal’s 38 percent approval rate, now is the time to speak out. Make no mistake, the governor “parked” his tax swap swindle because citizens pushed back en masse.

Myth No. 2: It is all going to get better soon. We have already witnessed Louisiana higher education budgets falling by $625 million, mass layoffs, student tuition and fees being raised by 50 percent or more since 2008, and no end in sight for the destruction of colleges and universities. Louisiana is facing a budget abyss of 1-2 billion dollars next fiscal year, and higher education will be Jindal’s whipping boy if he is not stopped. 

It is not going to get better until we demand that things change.

Myth No. 3: A new state constitution will solve higher education funding problems. Some legislators would have you believe that holding a constitutional convention to rewrite the 1974 document will somehow magically protect universities. 

No, this will not fix the problem. On the contrary, what we need are legislators willing to set priorities within the framework of our current revenue stream and current constitution. Blaming the constitution is nothing more than a parlor game played by Jindal and the legislators to claim their hands are tied.

Myth No. 4: Raising tuition and giving universities control over tuition increases will solve the funding crisis. This is like putting a Band-Aid on severed arm. Do not believe legislators or college “leaders” when they call for increasing tuition on the backs of Louisiana students and their families. Remember the LA GRAD Act scam? It raised tuition but did nothing to stop the funding calamity.

Each time tuition is raised, Jindal cuts state college funding by an equal or greater amount, a phenomenon I like to call “The Forgotston Equilibrium,” an economic principle brought to my attention by Hammond civic activist C.B. Forgotston.

Professors must fight for higher education funding and for justice. Their students deserve as much. Many are doing this already. Several examples of great courage are LSU’s Bob Mann, Kevin Cope, Mike Russo, Southern University’s Sudhir Trivedi, and Southeastern’s Barbara Forrest, Stephen Rushing, and James Kirylo. 

As Professor Mann opined, we only have “Louisiana tenure.” In other words, tenure means just so much in this fallen paradise of ours. 

But I believe a tenured professor has far more responsibility to speak out than an untenured or part-time instructor. Jesus said, To whom much was given, of him much will be required.”

I do not lose any sleep worrying about being terminated or retaliated against for speaking out about the governor and his malicious policies. Instead, I worry about waking up one, two, or three years from now and realizing I slept through the destruction of my native state by a delusional politician with his eyes fixed on the White House. 

Too much is at stake for professors to nap through the destruction of higher education in Louisiana.

Dayne Sherman lives in Ponchatoula and is the author of Welcometo the Fallen Paradise: A Novel. His website is
Dayne Sherman, Writer, Speaker, Scholar
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***This message speaks only for the writer, a citizen, not for any present or past employer.***