Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1-2012

Abstract

Message from President: Few would doubt that experience carries a value, yet few would be ready to accord to experience the irrationally high esteem granted it by the various units, agencies, and boards that govern and deliver higher education in Louisiana. In an educational establishment where “retire-rehire” could almost qualify as the refrain of a top-ten tune, where retreads and reassigned old hands move from juicy appointment to juicier portfolio while youngsters scramble for bread, where middle age is all but marginalized, where “double dipping” may sometimes lead to the ejection of a Commissioner but will usually create happy prosperity for everyone else in Louisiana’s aging in-groups, and where diversity concerns never stop the same old crews from staffing the same old ships, it may be time to ask whether those with experience are quite all that they are cracked up to be. If the long-serving officers who now steer Louisiana’s academic ships were as clever as experience would make them seem or could make sounder policy than all others, it would be unlikely that our state would be in the mess that it is today. Without hammering too hard at our distinguished greybeards and greybeardesses, we can surely conclude that the approach to Louisiana higher education taken by established leaders is not working. Looking at the big campus in Baton Rouge, for example, the wise and fair observer recognizes that the “Flagship Agenda” created by the ambitious Mark Emmert and then adopted by several followers has provided a rallying cry for the improvement of universities and colleges in our beleaguered state. That much is good. The ever-experienced LSU administration, however, in its enthusiasm for sports-style slogans, fast-paced promotional announcements, and gung-ho enthusiasm, routinely overlooks the down side of such campaigns, whether the alienation of those campuses that send students to the “Flagship” or the undervaluing of membership in a System or the overlooking of opportunities to cooperate with other campuses. Perhaps the most tragic oversight is the missing of the whole “Flagship” point, which is that a big research campus ought to provide leadership and fraternal support to regional institutions. What the insider’s mentality of Louisiana higher education is producing is, rather, an array of territory-defending structures that counteract any efforts at leadership. Imposing ideas about institutional preeminence from the top down causes those at the grassroots, in smaller institutions, to redirect their energies toward turf protection, with the result that programs at both the Flagship and other campuses fall into the low completer category (or worse). Students see no clear path to graduate programs and rightly wonder whether a career in academe means a life spent in calculating whether Nicholls State is producing more publications than ULM or whether both together might rival the Flagship campus. It is understandable but not admirable that lawmakers respond by creating commission after commission to study the structure of higher education with the sole (and destructive) purpose of putting every institution, whether mighty or meek, in its perceived place. One way to counter these problems is to encourage enlightened amateurism, with an emphasis on “enlightened.” Many campuses have support groups and all have management boards; most of these organizations are characterized by the worst kind of experience, lifelong wide-eyed enthusiasm. At the LSU A&M campus, for example, the Flagship Coalition wavers between a support group, a lobbyist association, and a meddling club; it does some good work but it never challenges insiders’ thinking and never articulates more than a provisional list of a few ambiguous goals. Alumni groups from Shreveport to the New Orleans Lakefront seldom veer from cheering to critical thinking. Especially given the great number of Jindal appointees on management boards around the state, it is high time that the amateurs who influence higher education prove their worth by doing something other than showing how well they can agree—by thinking.

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