Louisiana higher education crisis needs to be addressed prudently

Whatever we have heard so far about the current and future budget cuts in higher education in Louisiana might as well be true. Economic crisis has engulfed the United States for last two years and is generating desperation and hopelessness.

Higher education in Louisiana had been under tremendous challenges in the past two decades. As we all know, even before the economic crisis, LA higher education was not in the best of its shape.Today, the funding crisis is so acute that LA higher education may be transformed for ever – for worse.

LA Higher education budget has been cut by $270 million in state funds the past 20 months – which is 25% less than the regular state funding. Now the State government is advising the colleges to prepare a budget for 2011-12 fiscal year for an additional 35% reduction in state aid – a hefty amount of $520 million – as the state is projected have a budget deficit of $2 billion in coming fiscal year.

So what is the consequences of this severe budget cut? Without appropriate funding Louisiana very well may forget about playing a meaningful role in modern and global economy. Whether we have money or not, the world is not going to stop for us.

Our political and business leaders need to understand, the foundation of higher education – once destroyed – it is difficult to rebuilt even if you have lots of money – because money is one of the many factors in building sound higher educational institutions. The good professors will be gone, so are the good students and the good administrator.

We in the academic world know by our bones – to build solid world class academic institution – it takes time. Of course, you need dedication and commitment.

So far we have heard about closing campuses, firing teachers right and left, and getting rid of tenure protection for professors. Since some political and business leaders have a very confusing understanding about the tenure system in academia, it needs to be emphasized; tenure protection is not a guarantee of anything without performance.

It guarantees the freedom of a professor to teach, do research, and advice students without being harassed by administrators or anyone else. Without this protection, teaching profession will be meaningless.

The universities in the West are successful because they provide tenure to a deserving professor – after a thorough and rigorous process. Like federal judges, if you want free and fair judgment – don’t play with their permanent tenure.

University professors can’t provide education and do research to the best of their ability without tenure. Without tenure, creativity and stability will be hampered – which is one of the best assets in American universities.

Funding crisis in higher education should be addressed with a strategic and creative mind-set. To pursue a major public policy issue like higher education, state government can use multiple tools such as: Rainy day fund, floating bond, increase revenue creatively, reduce administrative layers in campuses, and golden handshake for

In particular I will urge the Governor and the State Legislature to consider borrowing money from the state rainy day fund, and Issuing a bond for higher education.

Keep in mind, you don’t cut your head to get rid of your headache. It takes decades to build the foundations of higher education. It’s not easy to repeat history.

We have seen in the past, the societies which ignored education and research – they basically ignored their future. In the Unites States, our best hope for our future is our educational institutions.

Dr. Nasir Ahmed is a professor of public administration in the GSU Political Science Department.