Monday, May 26, 2014

A Unified Front of University Professors

HB 142 for Louisiana Higher Education 
Guest Column  
May 26, 2014 
Posted by Dayne Sherman 
Dr. James D. Kirylo

This past week, I, along with professors from LSU, LSU-Shreveport, Southern, and Southeastern, testified in front of the Senate Finance Committee exhorting them to support House Bill 142.  Authored by State Rep. Jerome "Dee" Richard, with great support from State Treasurer John Kennedy, the bill calls for a 10% reduction of all state professional, personal, and consulting service contracts.  This would result in an estimated savings of approximately $500 million, which would be allocated to support higher education.

As I entered the standing room only senate committee room, I noticed the presence of F. King Alexander, President and Chancellor of LSU and Sandra Woodley, President of the University of Louisiana System.  I was prompted to think, great, the big guns are here as well to express their support for HB 142.  Indeed, a unified front among faculty and presidents was going to be powerful in persuading the Senate Finance Committee to pass the bill out of committee onto the Senate Floor. 

To be sure, the collective voices of the professors were united in their testimony, urging the committee what a boost HB 142 would have for colleges and universities and that at least it would bring some sense of relief and hope in reviving a devastated higher education system in the state.  
It is worth reminding readers that in the last six years a whopping 80% of funding to state colleges and universities has been cut, resulting in loss of programs, an exodus of top-talent faculty, and an environment where most faculty and staff have had to endure furloughs, along with no cost of living allowances or merit raises, and where many have been laid of.
Moreover, students have seen an exponential rise in tuition, burdening them to either drop out of school or to nervously scrape around to find additional funds.  And for many this burden will be exacerbated in the future when their loan debt comes in the mail.  It is no exaggeration to suggest that it will take a generation to recoup the aggregate loss of what has been occurring in higher education over the last half decade.  So, truly, HB 142 will be essential in moving higher education in the right direction.

After the other professors and I stated our favorable arguments for HB 142, I waited and waited for Alexander and Woodley to testify on behalf of the bill, too.  But they never stood up to speak nor gave any indication of a supportive direction of the bill; their silence was palpable.

In fact, they were there to testify for what the political columnist Dayne Sherman calls the unWISE Plan (HB 1033), which is a $40 million higher education workforce-type bill that comes with many strings attached.  Furthermore, the bill is unfunded, meaning legislators are still not sure where the funding will come from.  And, finally, how much each university will receive is unclear, but one thing that is clear is that whatever it is will barely have any real impact.

Why would Alexander and Woodley publicly support a HB 1033 that has no guarantee there will be funds available, and not support HB 142, which would guarantee a substantive amount of monies for universities?   It was then that the illumination of the politics involved was suddenly crystallized, clearly exposing my own naiveté regarding my ideal of a united front.

HB 1033 is a Jindal-backed bill, and higher education leaders have seen what has happened to those who have stood against the Jindal administration.  To put it nicely, they did not have any choice but to move on.  And HB 142 does not have the support of Jindal, and he will purportedly veto it if it comes to his desk.

In that light, one can only surmise that Alexander and Woodley were driven by fear to not speak up on behalf of HB 142 because, of both bills, it makes the most logical sense to support; it guarantees better possibilities to help begin the process of universities to dig out of the deep holes they are in.

Nevertheless, despite the position of the Jindal Administration and the lack of voice from university leaders, one can only be proud of the number of professors who openly took a stand to support a bill that can bring genuine hope in reviving our universities.

James D. Kirylo latest book is titled A Critical Pedagogy of Resistance.  He can be reached at
Dayne Sherman, Writer & Speaker
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***This message speaks only for the writer, a citizen, not for any present or past employer.***