Monday, May 20, 2013

All universities cannot survive Jindal

Crisis in Louisiana Higher Education

Dayne Sherman
Words: 750
Published in the Daily Star & elsewhere

The Louisiana higher education crisis is so broad and deep that it is difficult to cover in a newspaper column. 

No one sums up the disaster better than Jim Beam of the Lake Charles “American” newspaper. Recently, he opined, “The state spent $1.4 billion for colleges and universities in fiscal year 2007-08. The budget Jindal proposed for the fiscal year starting July 1 contains $284.5 million for higher education. That is an 80 percent reduction in state funding over those years.”

If I thought it would help, I would get this quote tattooed to my forearm in purple and gold letters with tiger paws as accents.

Of course, it would not help at all. I should be clear, however, that an 80 percent cut in state funding is an unmitigated disaster, and we will be three decades fixing the damage

Why did it occur? 

Simply put, Governor Jindal and his obedient legislators would rather provide two billion dollars in tax giveaways—mostly to well-connected companies—than to have a functional higher education system in Louisiana.

Constantly, the right-wing attacks the numbers of universities in Louisiana. We have too many, they say. What they never detail is exactly which universities they want to close. 

Indeed, they never mention our lack of a comprehensive community college system or that many of the vo-techs transitioning to community colleges are not accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

I suspect what these folks really want to do is close all of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities. But they know this requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, which is impossible. 

Make no mistake, universities will be failing or failed by the end of Jindal’s rule in January 2016. 

This under the table attack never ends. For example, HB 68, which re-establishes a Cash Balance Retirement Plan for Higher Education employees, as well as rank and file state workers, will help destroy recruiting of new faculty and administrators. (This bill has morphed into a substitute bill, HB 729.)

The bill was sponsored by Kevin Pearson (R-Slidell) and voted out of committee on May 15. It had failed to pass two weeks prior, but Paul Hollis (R-Mandeville) rolled over and switched his vote.

HB 68/729, the “Cat Food” Retirement Plan, is far worse than Social Security alone for many participants. A much better plan was passed last year, but it was found unconstitutional. Now it is before the Louisiana Supreme Court. It added retirement debt, an Unfunded Accrued Liability, and needed a two-thirds vote, which it did not get in 2012. The law that passed last year didn’t meet muster.

So what did Jindal lackey Kevin Pearson do? He made the retirement plan so paltry—again, far less than Social Security—so that it would not need a two-thirds vote of his colleagues to pass. 

It’ll give Jindal a victory to brag about as he runs for POTUS. That’s the goal for Jindal’s corrupt retirement legislation.

A dozen college leaders spoke out against the bill on May 15, which will, in part, make Louisiana higher education have a “bird seed” retirement program, something far worse than last year’s cat food plan. No one with any other career possibilities will come to work in Louisiana higher education if the bill becomes law. [See video by date - Retirement Committee:]

New faculty coming under HB 68/729 will get a 1.8 to less than 1 percent retirement match if they elect an Optional Retirement Plan (ORP) instead of the new state plan. Recently, I heard Jim Purcell of the Board of Regents indicate that neither he nor anyone else would be coming to Louisiana to work in higher education. Remember that Louisiana state employees do not pay into or receive Social Security benefits. Defending the plan at the hearing was one person, Steven Procopio, a loyal Jindal hack. 

One stooge is more important than a dozen faculty leaders in Representative Hollis’s weird little world. In other words, the testimony of one Jindal boot licker is more significant than statewide higher education leaders representing faculty senates, unions, and the American Association of University Professors.

Procopio was just doing his job. But next time you see a member of the Northshore legislative delegation, thank him for being instrumental in killing Southeastern Louisiana University and other state colleges and universities. They deserve to be thanked.

Again, Pearson and Hollis, as well as many local representatives are destroying higher education. I am simply letting you know what they are doing. Don’t forget this during the next election.

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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