Much like the proverbial frog in the pot, the heat is being turned up on Gov. Piyush Jindal and he may not even realize it until the water starts boiling.
First, two national publications, and now a Baton Rouge blogger have taken dead aim of the political mauling of the state’s flagship university at the hands of Jindal and his hand-picked Board of Supervisors and an outfit calling itself Louisiana’s Flagship Coalition.
That blogger just happens to be none other than Robert Mann who holds the Manship Chair at the Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU and who is director of the school’s Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs. He has written several critically acclaimed political histories of the U.S. civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and American wartime dissent. His most recent book, Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds: LBJ, Barry Goldwater and the Ad that Changed American Politics, was named by the Washington Post as one of the best political books of 2011.
He has worked for three U.S. senators (John Breaux, Bennett Johnston and Russell Long) and a Louisiana governor (Kathleen Blanco).
That said, when Mann takes on the governor, he is not to be taken lightly.
Given the fact that Jindal is in full control of his rubber stamp LSU Board of Supervisors and equally compliant university Interim President William Jenkins, Mann’s recent blog post raised more than a few eyebrows in and around Baton Rouge.
Jindal, after all, has already teagued former President John Lombardi, health system head Dr. Fred Cerise, Interim LDU Public Hospital CEO Dr. Roxanne Townsend and LSU System General Counsel Ray Lamonica.
And that’s just at LSU. Jindal has fired subordinates and demoted legislators for the simple act of disagreeing with him or thinking independently so one has to wonder if Mann’s scathing column is enough to provoke the little dictator into firing Mann, one of the most esteemed members of the Louisiana Fourth Estate.
Just the title of his post was provocative enough: So, Gov. Bobby Jindal is running LSU. Why should we care? In the column itself, Mann said, “Jindal doesn’t care much about putting LSU on stronger financial footing and he has made no effort to explain his cuts to students or faculty. Here is the link to Mann’s post:
“What he may care about is the LSU jobs available to his friends and campaign donors. His history of favoritism in other state departments (not to mention his intolerance of dissent) is well-known. Perhaps the only reason he hasn’t yet started stuffing LSU with friends and washed-up legislators is that he only recently acquired a strong majority of the LSU Board of Supervisors.”
It should be noted that one of the board members recently appointed by Jindal is campaign contributor Lee Mallett of Iowa, who attended less than a year of college at McNeese State University in Lake Charles. So, a member of the governing board of the state’s flagship university serves sans degree. Nice.
“With Just a few years left in office, it’s time to start finding well-paying jobs for his friends and campaign contributors. Jindal’s ‘Jobs Plan for Friends’ plan, however, assumes there’s a viable accredited university still in existence,” Mann said.
Accreditation was the thrust of Mann’s column. “Losing accreditation—or being deemed non-compliant in a major category—would be very harmful or even deadly for LSU and its budget,” he said. “If it lost federal student aid, the university would not survive.”
One of the major criteria for accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) is governance and administration of institutions “free of undue political influence,” Mann said.
He cited Section 3.2.4 under Governance and Administration in the SACS Principles of Accreditation which requires that “The governing board is free from undue influence from political, religious, or other external bodies and protects the institution from such (external) influence.”
“Can anyone say with a straight face that LSU is in compliance with this standard?” he asked—perhaps rhetorically and perhaps not.
Mann provided internet links to two separate publications that address the problems of governors attempting to run state universities. One of those specifically cited the present political atmosphere at LSU.
The Pew Center on the States in August published a report entitled How Governors govern Higher Ed. While that report never mentioned LSU or Jindal, it did name Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, two of Jindal’s closest allies, for their interference in the affairs of Florida A&M and Texas A&M, respectively.
The strongest indictment of Jindal, however, was contained in Lombardi’s Firing at LSU Puts Spotlight on Governor’s Reach into University Affairs, a report published by the Chronicle of Higher Education.
That report accuses Jindal staff members into trying to “strong-arm Mr. Lombardi into firing people” and further describes the governor’s office as “intent on inserting itself into the day-to-day management of the university system, often in alignment with a group called the LSU Flagship Coalition.”
In alignment with LFC? Really?
LFC describes itself as “a group of business leaders and citizens from across the state supportive of maintaining and enhancing LSU as a flagship university. The Coalition’s focus is on a top-tier research university that continues to improve its performance through admission standards, faculty research and productivity and higher retention and graduation rates. We believe LSU should be a driving force in the state’s workforce objectives, economic development strategies and innovation opportunities.”
Sounds noble enough. But let’s take a closer look at the LFC makeup.
Of its 57 members 33 combined to contribute nearly half-a-million dollars ($496,000) to Jindal political campaigns.
That’s in addition to the nine members of the LSU Board of Supervisors who chipped in another $162,000 and seven members of the University Medical Center Management Corp. Board who gave an additional $203,800. Because a couple of contributors serve on more than one of the boards, we have to be fair and say the total comes to something in excess of $800,000 (not the $861,000 at first glance) for the privilege of a handful of political cronies to run the state’s flagship university.
The desire by Jindal to have Lombardi fire Mike Gargano, chief of staff and vice president for students and academic support, Lamonica and Charles Zewe, vice president of communications and external affairs was “reinforced” by Jindal staff members during two separate meetings with Lombardi.
Jindal wanted them gone because he considered them insufficiently responsive to directives from the governor’s office. When Lombardi refused, LFC member Sean Reilly called Alvin Kimble, then a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors. “Sean called me and said we need to get rid of John Lombardi,” Kimble said.
Lombardi was fired in April of this year and Lamonica was “reassigned” last month.
While the LFC touts its agenda as aimed at turning the Baton Rouge campus into a “top tier” research university, there are those who have their doubts.
Kevin Cope, chairperson of the LSU Faculty Senate, said there has not been “a single example of work-force development that is aimed at basic research or advanced research.”
Cope said he also is concerned about apparent conflicts of interest between the LSU provost and a company run by an LFC member.
Provost John Maxwell Hamilton is a member of the board of directors of Lamar Advertising where LFC member Sean Riley is chief executive.
Hamilton has averaged $130,856 per year as his annual compensation from Lamar, including cash and stock, according to the company’s proxy statements.
Hamilton said his board membership at Lamar presents no conflict of interest.
Here are the contributions to Jindal’s campaigns by LFC members, their family members, their businesses and business associates:
• Hank Anderson: $20,000;
• Brent Bankston: $1,000;
• Boysie Bollinger: $58,850;
• David Bondy: $24,000;
• Jeff Brooks: $21,150;
• Terrell Brown: $2,000 (Brown was head of United Companies in Baton Rouge when the company went bankrupt);
• Ron Cambre: $25,000;
• Jay Campbell: $1,500;
• Jim Flores: $5,000;
• Todd Graves: $31,000;
• Lane Grigsby: $33,000;
• Frank Harrison, Jr.: $5,000;
• Brian Haymon: $1,000;
• Gary Laborde: $6,000;
• Richard Lipsey: $28,000;
• Roy O. Martin: $24,000;
• James Maurin: $11,000 (Maurin and Roger Ogden were both officers with Stirling Properties which contributed $5,000. Stirling’s contribution is included with Maurin but not Ogden.);
• Henson Moore: $6,000;
• Ron Neal: $500;
• Jake Netterville: $7,000;
• Roger Ogden: $5,000;
• Will Pecue: $34,500 ($15,000 of that from Taylor Energy, which has been leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico for more than eight years);
• Michael Polito: $38,400;
• Sean Reilly: $11,000;
• William “Billy” Rucks, IV: $17,500;
• Rob Stuart: $16,000;
• Richard Sturlese: $3,500;
• Carol Suggs: $2,300;
• Cyril Vetter: $2,500;
• Charles Weems: $5,000;
• Michael Worley: $15,000;
• Gary Young: $16,000;
• Richard Zuschlag: $17,384.
LFC Executive Board members include Bollinger, Flores, Grigsby, Haymon, Martin, Maurin, Ogden, Reilly and Young.
Those nine combined to contribute more than $166,200, or an average of $18,470 each.