Sunday, June 9, 2013

Louisiana Legislators Destroy Universities

The Death of Higher Learning
Dayne Sherman
Published in the Daily Star and elsewhere.
Words: 750

The Louisiana legislative session ended on June 6. Victory was declared by all parties, and Governor Jindal showed up for a photo op once the budget deal passed. Reports have claimed that this was only his second visit to the Legislature since he “parked” his dubious tax swap plan during his address at the opening of the session on April 8.

Despite the high-fives and celebration of alleged legislative independence, the much lauded victory is a fraud, just positive spin to keep the homefolk happy and dumb. Our elected representatives failed us this year, and the state will suffer as a result.

One important example of this failure is the continued attack against colleges and universities. Let me be very clear: your local university is dying, and this session did nothing to revive it or any other suffocating Louisiana university. 

Despite the malarkey you will hear from various well-paid sources in and out of the higher education, Louisiana schools may have been given the final blow with this year’s budget.

The best analysis comes from Jan Moller of the Louisiana Budget Project who said recently that Louisiana higher education was slated to receive $204 million in state funds (2.7 percent of the General Fund) during the coming fiscal year.

Keep in mind that higher education received about $1.5 billion in state funding in 2009 (18 percent of the General Fund).

As Moller points out, we are funding Louisiana higher education at the lowest level since the 1950s.

The legislators are saying they ended the use of one-time money, which has hurt higher education and health care in the past through midyear cuts. But one-time money and creative accounting did not go on vacation under this year’s budget. The budget is full of hoaxes, not the least being the nitwit tax amnesty program that will do little to make funding sustainable or stable.

For higher education, expect a midyear cut. I hope I am wrong, but the budget is full of funny money.

Community colleges were given $250 million to build campuses, and they will get the money separate from the Capital Outlay Budget, an act that may harm the state’s bond rating.

It sounds great on the surface, and I am all for strengthening our anemic community and technical college system. But this is an irresponsible plan that will build “ghost campuses.” Ghost campuses are fancy buildings without adequate faculty to teach students.

Colleges need students and qualified professors. This building boom is a bust without good students and compensated faculty. Though I am sure well-connected building contractors are pleased about the newfound pork, there is no money to hire professors for the new classrooms.

In a death blow to higher education, SB 16, a retirement bill, did not pass. Thus, new higher education employees electing to take the defined contribution plan (the Optional Retirement Program), which about half of the employees choose because of portability, will get a 1.8 percent retirement “match” and no Social Security benefits beginning July 1, 2014 (1).

Louisiana higher education will have the least attractive benefits package in North America. I challenge any person to find a more paltry retirement plan at any legitimate university in the United States or Canada. This legislative failure will grossly limit recruitment of new faculty. Simply put, men and women with any intelligence will find another place to work—a place outside of the Bayou State.

The legislative session is over but the damage to higher education continues. Thank your senator and representative next time you see him or her. Both Democrats and Republicans failed to give a legitimate effort to help higher education survive.

However, Jerome “Dee” Richard, an Independent from Thibodaux, made an effort again this year to reduce state contracts by 10 percent. It failed in the Senate. In my view, only by limiting these bloated contracts and cutting back on billions in corporate welfare and tax loopholes will higher education make a comeback.

Unfortunately, we have a legislative body, a governor, and perhaps a general populace with more interest in funding foolishness than higher learning.

On positive note for many of my readers, I plan to take a break from writing newspaper columns this summer in order to prepare several fiction projects for publication. That is if I can help myself. The Louisiana political landscape is rich and tempting for any observant writer.

I think it was novelist Tom Clancy who once said the difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.

In Louisiana, truth is more bizarre that fiction.

Dayne Sherman lives in Ponchatoula and is the author of Welcome to the Fallen Paradise: A Novel. His website is

(1) After being contacted by two Louisiana higher education advocates about SB 16, I am adding "2014" above. As it turns out, HCR 2 will stall the cut to a 1.8 percent match for a year. However, as the ORP stands right now, I challenge anyone to find a worse retirement program than the ORP at any legitimate university in North America.
Dayne Sherman, Writer & Speaker
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