Halftime: 'Unfortunately, It’s Not a Game'
For the first time in months, LSU System President F. King Alexander was able to relax a bit over the weekend.
“I spent it with our daughter, at her soccer tournament Saturday and Sunday.”
Last Thursday, Louisiana’s full House passed some revenue raising bills, alleviating some of Alexander’s worry that no solution to the $1.6 billion budget deficit – and the crippling cuts looming over higher education – would be found. Today, the House Appropriations Committee is expected to add that additional funding into the budget bill, with the bulk going toward higher education.
Alexander says the situation appears brighter than before, but, “We’ve got a long ways to go. We’re not there yet.”
“We’re still looking at massive reductions that are still left in the 30 to 40 percent range, even if those all go through and they’re allocated to higher education,” Alexander cautions.
He has yet to hear lawmakers promote a unified plan for preventing those state budget cuts.
“Right now, we’re in a bit of a crossfire on how to get there,” he says.
With 31 days left in the 60-day session, Alexander believes the “doomsday scenario” remains a possibility.
“If these cuts don’t get mitigated, we go from being 13-percent funded by the state to being 2.9-percent funded by the state.”
I asked if the end result might be converting LSU from a public to a private university. Alexander says that’s not possible.
“We don’t even have the authority to move towards any sort of private model,” Alexander said, his frustration clearly evident. “We do not have control over our own tuition and fees. It’s controlled by the Legislature. I would much rather the state legislature stand up and say, ‘We want LSU to be free’.”
He says being granted autonomy over setting tuition and fees is the key – not to winning this budget battle, but simply surviving it.
“There’s a lot of game still to be played, and unfortunately, it’s not a game,” he says.
Alexander has taken some heat for being frank about the aforementioned doomsday scenario, stating two-and-a-half weeks ago that LSU was gathering the documentation they’d need for filing financial exigency -- the academic institution equivalent of bankruptcy. Considering that his predecessors were shown the door for speaking out about prior -- and lesser – cuts to the state’s higher education funding, I asked him if he was under pressure to “sit down and shut up.”
He laughed, and said that wasn’t going to happen.
“The reason I’m quite vocal about this is that I don’t want people to come up to me on June 12th and say, ‘Well if you had told us this was going to happen, we might have done something differently’.”
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