Can public higher education effectively fight for its survival?
- Robert Mann, Louisiana State University's Manship Chair in Journalism, writes in the Times-Picayune about the lack of fight from public colleges and universities in the state against legislative budget cuts dating back nearly 10 years. According to Mann, historically assumed influence held by LSU and other state institutions was lost in 2009 and 2010, under Governor Bobby Jindal's effort to silence higher ed advocacy through cuts and firings.
- A lack of mobilized advocacy from alumni and scattered student protests, Mann argues, are to blame for the decimated condition of the state's institutions. This condition and today's legislative inaction is the new standard for a lack of civic demand for more institutional resources, he says.
- Mann also draws comparisons between the state's divestment in higher ed and its corporate investments. "Put another way, imagine if higher education had been as effective at demanding resources from lawmakers as were the large corporations that extracted billions from Louisiana government during the same period."
Public college presidents are not completely free to publicly oppose legislative actions. Their administrations and their individual livelihoods are at stake with any public statement they make on political direction, as well as the statements they make on sensitive subjects like free speech, equal rights, or academic freedom. While advocacy from the higher ed c-suite may be difficult, it is more than possible for students and alumni to carry the institutional fight to state capitals nationwide. And even appointed trustees can leverage their networks and regional influence to take up the fight on behalf of the president and institution as a whole.
The role that campus leaders play in fueling the fight is in making sure that campus constituents are informed and inspired by the possibilities of what their advocacy can do to push legislative action. Tying higher education support to re-election, or public shaming of lawmakers and candidates is one way to advance the cause of institutional and system-wide investment. Additionally, connecting higher education support to other issues such as public health, economic development and social improvement is another way to build coalitions around education as a central legislative discussion.
Finally, presidents and chancellors should encourage faculty and students to publicize research tied to higher education funding and vibrancy. Using the academic enterprise to showcase the value of investing in it is an ideal way to galvanize support and attention from all sides of a political or cultural discussion.
- Times-Picayune Why are Louisiana universities so powerless in Baton Rouge?