Grambling football isn’t the only thing suffering on a state campus in Louisiana. If taxpayers acted more like the Grambling players, who refused to attend the team’s game against Jackson State in protest this weekend, maybe higher education in Louisiana would be in a better place.
In a letter to Grambling University administrators, the players cited moldy equipment and facilities, harsh travel conditions, unwarranted staffing changes and having to pay for their own Gatorade. The administration should have met their demands.
But could they? We now know the Grambling officials didn’t, and the students played their most important card.
Spectators mistakenly focused on a game that was supposed to be. The boycott occurred during JSU’ homecoming no less. Many are shaken with questions of whether or not Grambling will play Southern this year for the annual Bayou Classic, which is played in New Orleans during Thanksgiving weekend. However, there are many more important questions to explore.
What about persistent and pervasive reductions to higher education funding in Louisiana? What about the disparate impact these cuts have on historically black colleges and universities?
Grambling University Football may take a hit, but if taxpayers march like Grambling’s famous band, then we may save many academic programs that are also buckling across the state. The public must pass our infatuation with sports, which proves to be a distraction from demanding adequate funding to higher education.
The HD that covers football merely exposes one symptom of a crumbling public higher education infrastructure in Louisiana. Something had to give in the state. We should be clear that this is a self-inflicted wound caused by actions behind “doing more with less” rhetoric, which runs its inevitable course. To think in 2007, Gov. Bobby Jindal eliminated revenue by repealing the “Stelly Tax” plan, and he cut taxes for the wealthiest Louisianians. Consequently, higher education and health care were placed on the sidelines because of their discretionary status in the budget.
Louisiana spent $1.4 billion for higher education in fiscal year 2007-08. However in 2013 Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget contained $284.5 million for colleges and universities. The 80 percent reduction in state funding equates to not only moldy football equipment; it equates to statewide shortages for science labs, student life programing and need-based aid.
The walkout is not about football. It’s about the story of Louisiana’s funding priorities for higher education.
Adding insult to injury, the narrative around the Grambling player walkout subtly suggests the moldy equipment; harsh travel conditions and corroding facilities are caused directly by an incompetent class of HBCU administrators. Worse, some think the boycott of a game should sound a president’s ouster.
In 2011, Gov. Jindal planned to merge the HBCU, Southern University New Orleans, with the predominately white institution, University of New Orleans (where I once held academic and administrative positions). The explicit rationale was because of SUNO’s low retention rates, its close proximity to UNO, as well as to eliminate program duplication.
The whispered charge, however, was that SUNO was a “bad” school in need of a takeover. I relay this because there is a perception that the boycott is a sign of HBCU incompetence.
To the contrary, the public should applaud the Grambling players for not taking the field, and we should use this moment as leverage to help administrators get the resources they need.
In addition, we should not be surprised, we should be encouraged that this level of protest comes from an HBCU. Earlier this fall, the All Players United demonstration brought to light labor/management inequities that are incredibly obvious in big time athletics.
The players offered a demonstration not an act of protest. The players took action to the level that matters most.
The Grambling athletes are competing for life. For a change, athletes are behaving like students or dare I say citizens. Athletics are supposed to supplement our educations not replace or supplant them.
It’s time for the viewing audience to boycott with them. However, the studies are correct. Football causes brain damage. Some can’t think about the learning that can take place if we turned off the games and tuned into politics. These are games people. Cuts to higher education are much more serious.
Andre Perry, Ph.D. (Twitter: @andreperryedu) is the Founding Dean of Urban Education at Davenport University. He’s also the author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City.