Friday, March 16, 2007

Louisiana Higher Ed. Funding Announcement: A Reality Check

Yesterday, Governor Blanco announced her proposals for Higher Education in the State of Louisiana. The proposals are as follows:

1) Cover all mandated costs increases ($33.2 Million)
2) Provide for an across the board faculty raise of 5% average ($30 mill)
3) Fully fund the formula ($98.1 mill)
4) Provide a 3% increase to units all ready at the 100% formula level or are a non-formula unit ($16.9 mill)
5) Provide a special fund for faculty recruitment, retention, and recovery at hurricane impacted units ($10 mill)
6) Fund a community college accreditation and program development project ($2 mill)
7) Provide a $1,500 increase for all non-faculty ($21.8 mill)
8) Expand library and scientific acquisitions budgets ($7.5 mill)
9) Fund a special workforce development program for construction and health care ($7.5 mill)
10 Continue current funding of the construction initiative ($5.5 mill)
11) Fund a dual enrollment expansion ($1 mill)
12) Support the ULM Pharmacy Accreditation Plan ($1 mill)
13) Support Pennington Biomedical Research Center Initiatives ($3 mill)
14 Support the Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise ($3.2 mill)
15)Fund the LSU Fireman Training Institute ($.5 mill)
16) Establish a need-based scholarship program ($15 mill)

These proposals have got a lot of press attention. A typical headline is something like, "Bottom line, $235 million increase in Higher Education funding (largest one year increase in state history)."

However, before the faculty in the Louisiana State system start thinking that they can again dare to answer calls from their Patron Saints (Visa, Mastercard and American Excuse), or dreaming of looking at the used car section of the paper, a reality check is in order.

The first thing to notice is that this is just an 'announcement'. Like many blogs, it is little more than a (possibly delusional) wish list. I can 'announce' that "The Moon is made of green cheese", without this having any relevance whatsoever for the composition of the planet closest to the Earth. This announcement is similar.

Now, do not get me wrong. This is a far better 'announcement' than the promise of draconian cuts, but a number of things have to happen before any of this announcement actually becomes part of the real world.

If the State of Louisiana is not hit by another hurricane this year, then some of this announcement may become real. If the State legislature passes the Governor's proposal, without making too many changes, then some of it could become real. Do not hold your breath on this one though. The State legislature has a rather bad habit of cutting and changing such proposals to a point that they are unrecognisable. Who can forget the Stelly Plan? The Governor's more recent proposal to boost teacher pay, simply failed. Thus, this announcement needs to be put into perspective. This also suggests that now would be a really good time for Louisiana faculty members to lobby their representatives and urge others to do likewise.

Even if the announced funding passes with minimal changes, all faculty may not be as happy as they may hope. Notice the language in the second proposal "Provide for an across the board faculty raise of 5% average". The phrase 'across the board' is a clue to potential future shenanigans. It is quite possible that certain systems and schools (we all know the one) may receive considerably more than 5%, while other schools and systems get correspondingly less. Apparently, immediately after the announcement, at least one school was complaining and worrying about these issues. We can anticipate a big old fight over who get what of the "...across the board faulty raise of 5% average." It will doubtless be unseemly.

Even if one should be a faculty member at a school that actually gets a reasonable cut of the assigned funds, there will still be issues about how the money is distributed amongst faculty members. A full professor earning $150k (although rare, they do exist) will get an extra $7,500 per year, with a 5% raise. However, a beginning assistant professor earning $30k will get a mere $1,500 per year with a 5% raise. Given the way that faculty are evaluated, those at the top are the most likely to get the big raises (they are often buddies with the suits). Those at the bottom will likely see a lot less cash. (For outsiders, it is important to realise that many Universities in the State of Louisiana are still run rather like plantations).

If this was not enough to take the joy out of any celebration that faculty members might be tempted by, there is yet another matter that could totally derail the whole set of proposals. Do not forget that there is an election coming up. At the present, it is still unclear whether Governor Blanco intends to run for re-election. She and ex-Senator John Breaux are playing chicken with one another, over who will and will not run under the Democratic flag. It could be the case that this announcement is just another move in this game. Until we know who will be running and who will not, none of this can be taken too seriously. If Breaux runs and Blanco does not, then the chances of these recommendations coming to pass will be reduced. She will have a lot less motivation to push the legislature to pass the proposals. It is currently too early to tell how it will pan out.

The point here though is that although this sounds like good news, it is a very long way from actually being good news. So, regular faculty members should not stop scanning the part-time help wanted ads and looking for jobs elsewhere, just yet. It may be OK to dream of the day when there is no longer too much month at the end of check, but do so in the secure knowledge that it is nothing but a dream, rather like the higher education proposals.

The CP


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