Document Type

Article

Publication Date

4-2014

Abstract

Message from President: If there were ever any doubt that the favorite virtue of higher education leadership is that of unanimity, skeptics would need to look no further than the apparent administrative lovefest that accompanied the announcement of the confidentlydenominated WISE plan (the “Workforce and Innovation for a Stronger Economy” blueprint), a loosely defined array of proposals and prophecies that center around the currently pending HB1033, sponsored by Lake Charles power broker Charles “Chuck” Kleckley. Wisdom might come at no charge other than that of study and experience,but the WISE plan strikes a hard bargain with academe: the ex nihilo delivery of $40,000,000.00 in exchange for measuring university merit by what HB1033 blithely calls “degree and certificate production” in “high demand fields” allegedly pertinent to the “state’s future workforce and innovation needs.” No “degree” or “certificate” is required to see that the WISE program aims, if nothing else, to change the tone and the missions of universities by prioritizing vocation­-specific preparation over wide­-ranging, altruistic teaching and research. What is perversely impressive about the WISE initiative and the happy­-puppy-­like response to it is that the stakes are so very, very low. Setting aside the question of where the $40M was found and overlooking the apparitional quality of a plan that emerged without any publicly accessible discussion, the economic impact on university budgets will barely push the indicator needle. $40M for three dozen Louisiana campuses, all of which will surely scramble for these dollars, will start little more than a stampede. At best, it will fund new careers for thirty or so “Associate Vice-­Chancellors for WISE.” Yet, despite realizing that a very small carrot had replaced the broken stick of a declining gubernatorial regime, higher education leadership rushed to the celebrations (and into group photographs with all the key players, including the Governor). Clever leaders, admittedly, found ways to tweak and finesse the lowbid buyout offer that is WISE. The buoyantly strategic leadership of the University of Louisiana System unfurled a scroll of pro­-WISE ovations from its nine campus Presidents, thus showing that the plan could be interpreted as applicable to nearly any initiative. ULS officialdom then began publicly affirming the value of the liberal arts. Southern University leadership opined that the WISE plan was fine and dandy but should be thoroughly revised so as to encourage smaller institutions. All of these carefully worded proclamations ingeniously endorsed the WISE plan while opening the possibility of its dilution and dissipation. Words questioning the fundamental premises of the WISE plan, however, remained innumerable, the count being zero. Faculty would do well to review and to speak out concerning the WISE plan and its attendant legislation. The proposed WISE management arrangements will inhibit faculty as well as public access to policy decision-making that will affect curricula. The WISE Board will operate as a select committee hidden within the Board of Regents. Anyone acquainted with the Regents’ approach to information distribution will understand that announcements concerning and access to WISE Board meetings will disappear behind a permanently outdated web page and a retracted public relations department. Comprised of system heads and three state economic and workforce development officials with no faculty, community, or student representation, the proposed WISE Board is at best exclusionary and at worst a machine by which a handful of state employees can quietly intimidate institutional leaders. The WISE bill anoints those curricula that produce workers in four­- or five-­star fields as determined by the Louisiana Workforce Commission, a gubernatorial prefecture which lacks any longterm record for predicting job prospects, let alone promoting workers’ rights. The four­- and five-­star ranking nomenclature, borrowed from investment ranking services such as S&P or Morningstar, fits awkwardly with discussions of human beings. Occupations that concern themselves with freedom of thought, basic research, or selfless service fall beneath this heaven of good fortune. Speaking of heaven, the calling of pastor doesn’t make it into the materialist galaxy of stellar jobs. What is most curious about the WISE phenomenon is that it may well increase faculty sympathy for university administrations. The highly talented but marginally neurotic way in which the top education managers tried and continue to try to massage the WISE bill—to say, in effect, “yes, we’ll take the money, but we’ll find some way to tie up the attached strings in the tangled rhetoric of the academic diversity so that the program will go nowhere except into the bank”—may help faculty to recognize that administrations are just as beatendown as are rank­-and-­file educators, although, perhaps, the top dogs are a bit better for taking the abuse.

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