The fecal matter is poised to strike the Westinghouse oscillating air manipulation device (the crap is about to hit the fan) and the citizens of Louisiana have no one to blame but Bobby Jindal (sorry, but I still can’t bring myself to call him governor) and the brain-dead legislators who, like so many sheep, for eight years obediently allowed him to lead the state off the fiscal cliff into the abyss.
In an LouisianaVoice exclusive, we have received a copy of a two-page letter from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) which, by comparison, is to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ warning Thursday as Black Sabbath is to Pat Boone. SACSCOC LETTER
The letter, dated Feb. 11 (Thursday) was addressed to Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne with copies to Edwards, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Eric LaFleur, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. Cameron Henry, Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education Joseph C. Rallo, Ph.D., the Louisiana institutional members of SACSCOC, and SACSCOC Board of Trustees Chairman Mark E. Keenum, Ph.D.
At least one source told LouisianaVoice that Edwards possessed the letter at the time of his televised statewide address on Thursday but chose to attempt to soften the impact of the letter’s contents as much as possible while still sending a clear message to the legislature and the citizens of Louisiana.
SACSCOC is the regional accrediting body for 800 public, private and for-profit institutions of higher education in 11 southern states, including Louisiana. It is one of seven regional accrediting bodies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to assure quality in higher education and to serve as the gatekeeper to federal financial aid (Title IV) for students in the region (emphasis ours). http://www.sacscoc.org/
The letter was signed by SACSCOC President Belle S. Wheelan, Ph.D.
“SACSCOC has become aware of the fact that because of the lack of financial resources from the state, the institutions the commission accredits may have to cease operation prior to the end of the current semester,” she wrote. “This would mean (1) students would not be able to complete classes and, subsequently, earn no credit for courses taken this semester, potentially impacting their financial and eligibility, and (2) payroll will not be met and bills would not be paid placing employees in an untenable financial situation as well as negatively impacting the credit ratings of the institutions.”
She said federal regulations dictate that any institution suspending operations or closure in the next several months must provide SACSCOC with a plan for how students can continue at another college or university. The commission, she said, would have to approve such a plan and could send students to another state. “This would create a tremendous hardship on students who might be unable to get a job because the completion of their degree is needed or, worst case scenario, they might drop out of college all together (sic).”
She said if the schools are unable to demonstrate continued financial stability or continue to enroll students, “the board of SACSCOC would have to consider a public sanction of the institutions or a withdrawal of their accreditation. Public sanctions have a chilling effect on the enrollment of potential students and withdrawal of accreditation results in the loss of federal financial aid.”
Wheelan served as president of two institutions and as Secretary of Education for the State of Virginia. As such, she said, “I am painfully aware of the difficulty state leadership has in making budgetary decisions but the lack of state funding is putting Louisiana colleges and universities in serious risk and placing students’ academic careers in jeopardy. I know the challenges are many but I believe it is important for you to know the impact your decisions will have before you finalize your plans.”
Here is the response to the letter which Gov. Edwards gave LouisianaVoice on Friday:
“The previous administration’s choice to make the largest disinvestment in higher education in the nation over the past seven years was a choice that would inevitably lead to devastating results. It is time to turn that around. If the legislature chooses to raise no new revenue in the special session starting Sunday, universities and colleges across our state together will face more than $200 million in cuts this fiscal year—and will have to implement those cuts over the next four months. Even if the legislature chooses to raise the revenue I am proposing, higher education still faces $42 million in cuts and a $28 million TOPS funding shortage this year. This is unsustainable. I am working with our legislature to develop solutions to stabilize Louisiana’s budget this year and going forward. These responsible steps can only help us maintain accreditation for our higher education institutions, as our students deserve.”
Edwards, in his address Thursday, said that the TOPS scholarship program had suspended payments because of the state’s pending $870 million budget deficit and the looming $2 billion budget hole facing legislators for the next fiscal year which begins on July 1.
In order to awaken anyone who might have been dozing off or who were ticked off for missing Family Feud or Wheel of Fortune (one Baton Rouge TV station opted for Wheel instead of carrying the governor’s speech, choosing instead to stream the speech on its Web site), Edwards also threw in the biggest threat of all: the possible necessity of (gasp!) cancelling collegiate football in 2016.
Well, if losing TOPS didn’t do the trick, you can bet your school jersey that got the attention of Louisiana’s masses. I mean, how could we possibly survive without watching a bunch of oversized, tutored adolescents strut around on the field after pile-driving an opposing quarterback head first into the turf at Tiger Stadium to the delight of 100,000 screaming maniacs?
Why, it would be downright unamurican!
Sure enough, Internet news pages predictably latched onto the football hook in covering Louisiana’s fiscal implosion. http://www.msn.com/en-au/sport/golf/lsu-football-in-danger/vp-BBpqNEV
At least we now know what’s really important in this state (like we didn’t before?). Certainly it’s not the deplorable condition of the academic buildings falling down around LSU students that Bob Mann has been documenting in recent weeks on his outstanding blog post Something Like the Truth. http://bobmannblog.com/2016/01/24/sinking-flagship-a-new-look-at-lsus-middleton-library/
But hey, who ever paid admission to watch a physics professor teach—other than students faced with ever-rising tuition costs?
And just how is all this legislators’ and Bobby Jindal’s fault?
The explosion of corporate tax breaks that were handed out during his administration, for openers.
And there is the excellent series on corporate tax breaks published by the Baton Rouge Advocate: http://blogs.theadvocate.com/specialreports/
Along with the handouts to his corporate friends and supporters, Jindal also cut higher education more than any other state, another issue covered in depth albeit somewhat belatedly by The Advocate. State support to colleges and universities was cut by 55 percent during Jindal’s eight years with cuts having to be made up by painful tuition increases.
LSU President F. King (I would absolutely change my name—or drop the initial) Alexander fired the first real warning shot across the legislature’s bow last April with he revealed he had already drawn up plans for financial exigency (bankruptcy) as yet another higher education budget cut loomed.
It worked, in a fashion. The legislature responded by passing a phantom tuition increase offset by a phantom tax credit which was supposed to fix the problem (who bought into that?), but only after consulting with the god of No New Taxes, Grover Norquist. Norquist has never held public office but yet he mysteriously controls the puppet strings of legislators and congressmen as if holding the sword of Damocles over their collective heads with his idiotic “No New Taxes” pledge. Did the Republicans learn anything from George H.W. Bush’s infamous “Read my lips: no new taxes” promise in his 1988 nomination acceptance speech? Apparently not.
And therein lies the real problem. Why in hell did our legislators, led by a delusional man who would be president if only he could break the 1 percent barrier in the Iowa polls, answer to someone like Norquist and not the citizens of this state? That question needs to be addressed repeatedly to every legislator who went along with that shell game last year. “Mr. Legislator: why did you acquiesce to Grover Norquist like some pathetic, starving little puppy begging for table scraps?”
“For years, Louisiana’s colleges have stabilized funding with tuition and fee increases to offset declining direct support from the state,” said Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) President Robert Travis Scott when shown the letter by LouisianaVoice. “But we’ve reached the limits of those tactical maneuvers. Now we need a strategy to provide long-term financial stability for higher education while also getting a streamlined and accountable educational product in return,” he said.
State Rep. J. Rogers Pope (R-Denham Springs), a member of the House Education Committee, said the letter “makes you want to throw up.” He said the message in the letter is “devastating to all parents and students as well as our colleges. I don’t see that the legislative body will permit that to happen.”
Pope, a former school principal and retired Superintendent of Livingston Parish Schools, said he hoped that the legislature and Edwards can “forget partisan politics and work together to get us out of this deep hole dug by the previous administration. Losing accreditation is a major blow to the state’s financial and workforce capabilities.”
Another source said the situation “is dire” and that was why football was mentioned by Edwards in Thursday’s address. “If we lose accreditation, it’s all over regardless of how much money TAF (the Tiger Athletic Foundation, which helps support LSU athletics) has.”
The source, who asked not to be identified said, “This is the beginning of the multi-institutional collapse of historic proportions I’ve been predicting for years.”
As I have said here before, if you, the citizens of this state, choose to sit idly by and not question the actions, motives and obligations of legislators to lobbyists and corporate contributors, then you have become as much of the problem as Jindal and the legislators.
It’s up to you to hold your elected official accountable. If you don’t, if you can’t pull yourself away from football or Wheel of Fortune or Bachelor long enough to learn what your elected officials are doing, then stop whining.