A recent news story tells us all we need to know (and then some) about what really matters in American higher education. Here’s how the story begins:
Proving it’s not only small, private, liberal-arts colleges that are susceptible to financial distress, Louisiana State University (LSU) announced that it’s in the midst of drawing up a financial exigency plan.
Bloomberg News, which reported the development, called the plan “equivalent to a college bankruptcy” and noted that it would let LSU fire tenured faculty and restructure its finances.
The Baton Rouge-based university with over 30,000 students is drafting the plan, in part, because the most recently proposed budgetary cuts by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal threaten to severely impact the higher-education system in the state. The governor’s plans would cut the budgets for Louisiana’s colleges and universities to the tune of 82%, according to Bloomberg.
The president and chancellor of LSU, F. King Alexander, stressed the bankruptcy plan was essential since there has been little movement in the state’s legislature to make updates to the budget.
“We don’t say that to scare people,” Alexander was quoted as saying in The Times-Picayune. “Basically, it is how we are going to survive.”
The economic struggles of small liberal arts colleges are well-known, but this is the first news regarding the financial struggles of a major university and the obvious fact that large universities have so much more fat to trim than do small colleges hardly needs to be mentioned. However, the news that L.S.U. may have to make draconian cut-backs, including the firing of tenured faculty, is a shocker. But it should be read in the context of several salient facts: Les Miles, the L.S.U. football coach makes $4.3 million a year and has 17 assistant coaches whose salaries are almost certainly higher than the tenured faculty who might be dismissed. In addition, like all other major Colleges, L.S.U. is allowed 85 “full-ride” athletic “scholarships.” Assuming that all of these are out-of-state students (which is a fair assumption) this amounts to $325,397.00 per year — just for football.
The “restructuring” may be a bluff on the part of the president, of course, to bring the legislature to heel. But a much bigger bluff would be the threat to drop L.S.U. football — or any of the sixteen sports teams. Now that would get their attention! But, come to think of it, the bluff almost certainly wouldn’t work: the legislators know that L.S.U. would never touch the athletic teams! Tenured faculty for sure, but don’t touch the coaches or the athletics program. They know what really matters in major American colleges and universities — and it’s not education.