LSU Faculty Senate Publications

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Message from President: The wave of discussion concerning large-scale reorganization of not only higher education but also the K–12 offering that is currently crashing through the LSU campuses is nothing new. It has been surfed by all the other Systems in Louisiana. The University of Louisiana System has dropped units, acquired new institutions, and relocated the basis of tenure to allow for euphemistic “flexibility”; Southern University has allowed campuses to slip into exigency; LCTCS has embarked on an expansion program. As with all waves, the rush of talk—or propaganda—is sustained less by the material in the wave than by the energy of the process. For one, the drive to modernize higher education is woefully short on data (the notorious AGB reports, for example, contain no objective, historical, or measurable information). What is of even greater concern, however, is the building of the proposed reform on unexamined premises. “Unexamined” is a negating modifier suggesting that the assumptions that are in play might be better regarded as superstitions, hopes, or prejudices. A review of what is now nearly five years of talk about restructuring of one kind or another reveals at least seventeen unexamined premises that are easily countered. Here is a quick-start guide to the faulty assumptions that are being taken for granted in the current debate and an equally quick set of counter-propositions. 1. Cheapest is best; paring down budgets saves money and does more with less. Consider the long-term cost of deferred maintenance, declining enrollment, and the collective expense of thousands of students driving to distant campuses when programs are consolidated. 2. The least administered is best. The attempt by AGB consultants to streamline the LSU bureaucracy ended up expanding the vice-president count to twenty; the efforts of streamlining commissions such as LAPERC consumed hundreds of thousands of dollars with no result. 3. The most centralized is best. This may be true in populous states where campuses stand near to one another, but the cost of running operations such as procurement or HRM from a central location in a population-dispersed state such as Louisiana has not been calculated. 4. The most homogenous is best. The notion that all campuses of any one kind—regional, research, community—ought to be ghetto-ized into their respective separate systems, a form of academic monoculture, is more likely to promote conformity than synergy. 5. Productivity should start now. Long-term growth generally proves more rewarding than short-term fixes. 6. Productivity requires change. The cult of “change,” which began with the campaigns of Bill Clinton, substitutes a process for a fact. Change can be for the worse. 7. Productivity arises from agreement. Most System management board meetings nowadays resemble cheerleading camps, leaving one wondering how innovation will arise from repetition and agreement by reflex. 8. Productivity requires structural change. To date, the turnover and the tweaking in all of Louisiana’s systems has produced only deterioration. Even the authors of the AGB report admitted that the success of a structure depends on the character of those who manage it. 9. Productivity results from imitation. How many times have Louisiana educators heard that we must innovate by finding an example of novelty and copying it? 10. Productivity is measured by workforce development. This old saw has already borne bad results for the aerospace engineers of the 1960s and 1970s, who were counseled to train for a trendy job in the expectation of a perpetual race to space but who ended up unemployed. 11. Productivity arises from assessment. The mania for measurement rests on an irrational faith that humans can improve forever, a theory for which there is no evidence. 12. Productivity results from privatization. Does any parent believe that $8,000.00 per year in tuition is less expensive than quality public schools? 13. Prominent figures and celebrities make the best leaders. The cult of celebrity arises more from the hope for a Messiah than from an accurate measure of the accomplishments of the rich and famous. 14. Non-traditional candidates for presidencies who come from the business world know best how to operate a university. Less is not more—it is simply less. Candidates without university experience lack knowledge of universities. 15. Standard practices should be in place at all institutions within a system. Donors, alumni, and supporters offer their benefactions and assistance to institutions owing to approval of local customs and campus traditions. 16. An unlimited market for online education awaits tomorrow’s universities. No one has provided evidence that the population is expanding without limitation or that average human intelligence is increasing—let alone that there are jobs for thousands of certificate holders. 17. Management board members should be appointed by political and geographical region. This idea precludes the kind of vocational, intellectual, experiential, and economic diversity that characterizes the boards of successful universities. If those seventeen misconceptions fail to give pause when thinking about restructuring, then second thoughts will surely come from the recognition that the people who are now campaigning for reform are the very same ones whose former bright ideas have produced the present calamities in higher education.