Friday, August 16, 2013

Guest Column by Dr. James D. Kirylo

We Have a Leadership Crisis in Baton Rouge

By Dr. James D. Kirylo
August 16, 2013
Guest Column - 700 words

This speech in no way reflects the views of Southeastern Louisiana University or its management.

On behalf of the faculty senate, a grand welcome to the 2013 Convocation!  Also, as a great way to commence this new academic year, I hope you will all join us at the annual Alumni picnic located in the Twelve Oaks on Friendship Circle following this convocation. 

It is an honor and privilege to be standing before all of you this morning.    When I mentioned to my wife what my role would be at this event, and that I would be speaking, she squirmed a little and said “Oh, oh.”  Perhaps some of you might be saying the same thing to yourselves.  Anyone who knows me knows that I attempt to live my life to be as honest, authentic, and sensitive as possible, making every effort to speak truth to power, truth to justice.

And the truth is, Dr. Crain is making every good effort to lead this university through waters that are hurricane rough, paddling with only one oar—not two—in a continuous sea of darkness, somehow fending off wave after wave with seemingly no forecast of calm.  Clearly, the ride has been rough.  As Hammond City Councilperson, Mike Williams, recently stated, “I know Dr. Crain and I know that this pains him.” 

Certainly, we will come out of these difficult days, but it won’t happen unless more of us rise up out of our slumber of silence.  Mayor Foster is absolutely right, “As goes the university, so goes the city of Hammond.” 

Of course, there is an elephant in the room.  A big one.  And that is this: we have leadership crisis in Baton Rouge.  While we are starving higher education and going down, most states are reinvesting in higher education, including our neighboring states of Texas, Mississippi and Arkansas, adding fiscal resources to higher education.  Yup, we have a leadership crisis in Baton Rouge.

It has been said that if given lemons, we ought to make lemonade.  That’s a nice thought, a positive spin on things.  The problem, now, is the lemons are dried out, and the lemonade has been all drunk up.  No more lemonade can be made. 

Well, perhaps we ought to look at things as a glass half full, instead of half empty.  A nice thought, too.  But, that is problematic, as well, because there is no more water in the glass.  To be sure, we have a leadership crisis in Baton Rouge.

These draconian cuts to Southeastern have placed an incredible financial burden on students, have created unsustainable hardships on faculty, and staff—on families, and soon—if not already—the business community in Hammond and surrounding area will share the pain.  To put it another way, if Southeastern goes away, no more new chicken places will be coming to town, and most of the others will close down.  Bye-bye Starbucks, hello vacant lot.  Yes, we have a leadership crisis in Baton Rouge.

But, there is a light.  And that light is all of you, is me, is Dr. Crain. Collectively, we can right this ship, by—as one insightful thinker at Southeastern puts it—“Standing up, speaking up, and not shutting up” so much so to move Baton Rouge to assert leadership that rightly funds higher education in the state of Louisiana, that rightly supports Presidents of Universities, like Dr. Crain, and that rightly supports students in elevating their possibilities to make a better Louisiana.

Some in here may be thinking, odd introductory remarks for an-opening-academic-year convocation.  Perhaps, but I don’t think so, simply because the urgency of the times demands it.  Contrary to Jack Nicholson’s iconic line in the motion picture, A Few Good Men, I suspect this audience can handle the truth.

As I introduce Dr. Crain, I am reminded of the words of Victor Hugo, the great French writer who wrote, “Be as a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings.”  Indeed, the President of Southeastern Louisiana University continues to strongly move forward, despite the fragility of the circumstances.  It is my great honor to introduce Dr. John Crain.

***Used with permission.

Blogger Dayne Sherman resides in Ponchatoula. He covers the South like kudzu and promises that he never burned Atlanta. He is the author of author of Welcome to the Fallen Paradise: A Novel. His website is

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