Document Type

Article

Publication Date

4-2012

Abstract

Message from President: The topics that present themselves at the inception of a new issue of the Newsletter are always numerous and usually interesting, but in moments like those following on the insurgency that led to the decapitation of the LSU System there is really only one topic, and that is the import and finally dubiousness of revolution. The pretentious quasi-tyrannicide perpetrated by a loose confederation of would-be academic boosters is being presented by its sponsors as a genial version of the Arab Spring, with spontaneous support coming from every corner of Louisiana—every corner, that is, where “diversity” applies to one’s choice between a hamburger and a hot-dog rather than to matters of socioeconomic status, vocation, race, gender, creed, or any other affiliation. The “real” Arab Spring has rightly been criticized for its lack of women, Christians, Jews, and migrant workers; the not-so-Arab uprising in the LSU System office evidenced similar deficiencies. Voting for the retention of the beleaguered President was the only southwestern Louisiana woman on the Board; the only non-majority member voting for the elimination of an open-minded if not liberal northeasterner who had been hired to reform the System was an otherwise distinguished minority member who is up for reappointment. Few doubt that the buoyant President Lombardi will rebound into some new position or role where the receiving system or institution will rejoice in LSU’s loss. What faculty governance around the state—not only at LSU or at LSU System campuses, but across the state, for LSU and its affiliates have been designated “statewide” institutions by the Regents—needs to recognize is that, in the first instance, the attack on President Lombardi is also an attack on academic freedom. True, the issues at stake are not of the Ward Churchill or J. Robert Oppenheimer variety. He never made recklessly provocative nor cogently academic nor even highly political statements. His primary offense was the stating of the truth (or at least the truth as he believed it to be) with force, integrity, and enthusiasm. His secondary offense was in the attempt to purge his segment of higher education of influence-peddling and to maintain the integrity of the statewide educational project. Those who caviled at his schemes to equalize funding among institutions may have sincerely believed in their ideas; nevertheless, the hysterical reaction to Lombardi’s policy positions went far beyond routine differences of opinion and wandered into attempts to shut down the open discussion of alternatives. During his last days in office, Lombardi was under what amounts to the standard edict of the present gubernatorial regime: “my way or the highway” coupled with “shut up or you’ll be shut down.” The second major concern for academic people on all campuses that arises from the denouement of the Lombardi story is that of xenophobia. One colleague who is highly placed in faculty governance on a non-A&M campus refers to Louisiana as a “brother-in-law state,” as in “there’s a job opening that you control and I’ve made a contribution and I’ve got a brother-inlaw who needs a job.” What got John Lombardi in trouble almost from day one is that he was, as the idiom goes, “not from around here.” Sharp, witty, quick, and multi-coastal—a truly modern man who seemed to have been to and to have come from everywhere—Lombardi represented a threat to people who, for good or bad reasons, fear that their culture or way of life of just plain attitude is under attack. The irony is that the Lombardi approach, which would stabilize the statewide campuses and maintain both regional and campus identity within Louisiana, would help to preserve those threatened cultures. John Lombardi, for example, would never axe a French program, as has happened at one south Louisiana campus, if the pittance required to keep it going could be found on another campus. The self-defeating tribalism that has manifested itself in the gangland-style elimination of the Lombardi regime is the driving force behind the tragedy of Louisiana’s selfdefeating attempt to preserve its identity by homogenizing every campus into one big superboard or one unvaried amalgam of regional campuses or worse. “Tragedy” is an apt word, for Aristotle reminds us that persons of great powers but finite resources routinely succumb to ravening by the world. So it was that, rather than cut the usual deal, shake hands, retire, and go away saying that the LSU System has a bright future with the next generation of leaders, Lombardi chose instead to go out as a hero—a tragic hero, but a hero nonetheless. Standing in the halls of the LSU System at 11:45 am on Friday, April 27th, a herald like those in classical tragedies walked through the corridors, crying out “John Lombardi has left the building.” The famous presidential red jeep had pulled away, leaving the buzzards to cruise the aisles, but, like Agamemnon or Oedipus or Creon, Lombardi overcame the final indignity, vanishing offstage and going out, as football coaches say, “with his head held high,” a hero and a legend.

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