Louisiana Cuts Deliver Blow to Black Universities

January 29, 2012


By J. Kojo Livingston

Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from the Louisiana News Weekly

(TriceEdney Wire.com) - As Governor Piyush “Bobby” Jindal boasted at his inauguration about the progress Louisiana has made under the first four years of his administration, two leaders of North Louisiana’s Black Universities are bracing to fend off the effects of mid-year cutbacks imposed by the governor.

All of higher education is being impacted by the cutback. Both Grambling State University and Southern University at Shreveport have made major accomplishments during the past year. Both now face threats to that progress at the hands of an administration that has created a massive deficit by increasing tax breaks to the wealthiest of citizens.

Southern University at Shreveport is coming off of a year that included a major capital purchase which will allow expansion of its widely recognized medical programs and therefore an increase in self-generated revenues. It has also enhanced other academic programs. However the Univer?sity cannot expect to be rewarded for the successful efforts of the previous year.

Because the Revenue Estimating Conference declared a budget deficit for the state for the fiscal year 2011-12, all of higher education has been ordered to reduce its budget by $50 million. Each institution has to reduce its budget by as much as three percent. For Southern that amount comes to about $300,000. Chancellor Ray Belton’s had his Office of Finance and Administration come up with plans for cutting operational expenses and other items; however it was just not enough to avoid impacting personnel. To avoid outright layoffs Southern will be furloughing most employees without pay for a small number of days over a four- to five-month period.
Non-tenured faculty will be furloughed a total of four days from February to May. Administrative and professional or unclassified employees will be furloughed a total of five days from February 1 to June 30. The administration believes that it can minimize the impact of the cuts on the operations of the school and on the lives of employees. Belton acknowledged to his staff that this was a tough challenge but was upbeat about the ability of the SUSLA family to overcome the cutbacks and still provide quality education to their students.

An hour’s drive to the west of Shreveport is Grambling University which is facing a similar situation. The Sun spoke with University President Dr. Frank Pogue about the school’s challenges and successes during the past year. Pogue was proud that 2011 was the year that Grambling State University advanced from having 98 percent of its academic programs that require accreditation by the Board of Regents to 100 percent of its programs accredited, and, Grambling State University successfully met 100 percent of the requirements of the LA GRAD Act. There was also progress in the area of sports with the return of Doug Williams to resume the head coaching position and their victories at the Bayou Classic and their defeat of Alabama A&M University to become the SWAC Champions.
Pogue was very clear about what he thought was the low point of 2011, “After experiencing drastic cuts in state appropriation over the past two years, Grambling State University was recently notified that we would undergo an additional mid-year reduction by almost $1 million. Although these cuts are difficult to absorb, our primary priority is to protect the Mission of Grambling State University.”

Pogue is concerned that “These frequent budget reductions will continue to make it extremely difficult for the university to plan for its future.” The president does not see any relief in the near future, “It seems that cuts to higher education will continue, and although very harmful decisions are being made, we will continue to restructure the university to ensure that our mission is protected and that our students continue to have access to excellent educational experiences.”

Pogue says the most important thing he wants to accomplish in 2012 is “to advance a very aggressive and successful five-year capital campaign with a goal to raise needed financial resources to support academic and athletic scholarships, campus infrastructure, facilities enhancement, University Lab Schools and other university needs.”

Across state leaders are concerned about the trend of cutting funds for higher education while raising fees. Senator Lydia Jackson described the fee increases as a de facto tax increase. Others are concerned about the survival of Black institutions of higher learning and about having educated leadership for the state in the future. Some leaders, like, Shreveport’s Theron Jackson, are calling on the community to organize to provide direct financial support to the Black colleges, while fighting policies that threaten to eliminate Black higher education altogether.
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