Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Roaring Lion or a Stuffed Housecat?

A Problem with the Hammond Chamber of Commerce

Dayne Sherman
Words: 650
Published in the Daily Star & elsewhere

The crisis in Louisiana higher education does not appear to be slowing in the least. With almost every public statement, Governor Bobby Jindal’s well-paid propagandists say that they are protecting higher education and health care—as if saying something over and over again will convince the public to abandon reality and believe their fiction.

My role as a writer is to point out the distance between the spin and the facts. In the process, I have often raked my own tribe, the professoriate, over the coals. I believe charity begins at home.

From my perspective, college and university employees should be marching on the State Capitol and not their respective university administrations. After all, it is the legislators and the governor who send university chancellors, presidents, and provosts buckets of mud instead of buckets of money to run campuses.

The problem with professors is not that they are lazy or that they do not work hard or teach well, it is that they are not involved in the political process as active citizens. I recounted last week that state funding for Louisiana higher education has been cut 80 percent since 2008. This is a shame and a sin.

So far, I have witnessed nothing to change my mind or challenge my assertion that university employees are cowering in a corner afraid of the boogie man. This lack of civic engagement weakens their institutions, harms their students, and threatens their communities.

Having said this, there are some fine examples statewide and locally of faculty members standing up to the powers and principalities, but they are few, the exception and not the rule.

But enough with the criticism of my own profession. Recently, I was driving up Northwest Railroad Avenue in Hammond, and I saw a stuffed lion atop the Chamber of Commerce sign. It is a cute gesture.

I went home and spent a great deal of time scouring the Chamber webpage for position statements decrying the cuts to their local university, and I could find nothing. Zip. Zero. Nada. The outrage may be buried there someplace, but it is covered by a thin veneer of happiness.

Forty million dollars in cuts to the local university and they don’t have an image of a balled up fist with the caption saying, “Governor and legislators, stop killing our university!”

How shameful.

With the Chamber, I see the same apathy of the professoriate, which is nothing but acquiesce: “Let’s go along to get along.”

In Louisiana, we are own worst enemies. Failing to pass the Hammond school tax is one example, which was detailed on Friday in this newspaper by Dr. Roman Heleniak. I wish to thank him for his kind words about my old novel, Welcome to the Fallen Paradise. The book does deserve a sequel, but next time the beneficiaries of my fictional wrath should be the business community instead of dirty politicians.

Novels aside, at the end of the day Governor Jindal and the legislators couldn’t care less about university faculty and staff. They are disorganized, Balkanized, and as a group unaware of the political process. Most are just plain scared and with good reason.

Please understand one thing: When the business community starts carrying pitchforks to legislative offices and the Capitol, we will see the destruction of Louisiana higher education come to an immediate halt. The silence of the business community needs to end today.

The only reason I spend time challenging business leaders is that I believe they have the power and the responsibility to turn things around for higher education. The legislative session ends on June 6, and they have less than two weeks to wake up.

If only the business community would act like a roaring lion instead of a stuffed housecat.

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