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LSU president fired for opposing Jindal plan

7th May 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

On Friday, April 27, LSU System President John Lombardi was terminated by the LSU Board of Super­visors, on a 12-4 vote, due to his opposition to spinning off the other LSU campus into the UL system—and making Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge effectively the state’s first Charter Public University.

Political pressure from the Jindal Administration reportedly was behind Lombardi’s ouster. Just hours before the vote, Board member Alvin Kimble told the Baton Rouge Advocate. “John is very single-minded; he does what he thinks is best for the university without having any concern for the politics… He hasn’t made friends with the administration.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Hank Danos approached Lombardi the day before and asked him to step down, Kimble said. “[He] told him they had the votes to fire him if he didn’t resign.” Lombardi re­fused.

Board member Tony Falterman of Napoleonville believes the Jindal administration might be behind the move because Lombardi recently testified before the state legislature and was critical of Jindal’s plan for higher education.

In point of fact, the LSU System president was outspoken. Re­cently, he called a proposal floated by the Administration to merge LSU Shreveport with Louisiana Tech in Ruston as seeking “to undermine” his university’s mission.

Over the last few months, Gov. Jindal has developed something of an alliance with “The Flagship Coalition,” an influential group of business leaders and others among LSU’s alumni, who seek more freedom for the main campus, and are willing give up the extension campuses in exchange. Lombardi has opposed the idea, but, as vouchers and public employee retirement reforms passed the legislature three weeks ago, the higher education panels in both the House and the Senate began to explore it.

The concept of moving most of the Louisiana State University campuses outside of Baton Rouge in the UL system, and at the same time, give LSU almost complete independence to raise tuition and entrance requirements, organize its degree programs with little oversight, and authorize faculty payments scales beyond the typical levels seen in other Pelican State four-year campuses now has it adherents in the Capitol.

Some say this would give the flagship campus of Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge the ability to compete with some of the foremost public and private colleges in the nation. However, Lombardi is not the only critic of the idea. Opponents say that adding costs to students is not the answer. Instead, the governor and his allies should be focusing on a program similar to what Texas Gov. Rick Perry has proposed—creating college degrees that cost less than $10,000.

Sources close to the members of the LSU Board of Supervisors have told The Louisiana Weekly, that the panel is seriously considering, at the close of the current legislative session, to reorient the flagship campus in Baton Rouge to high-level education and world-class research, then consolidate the system president and flagship chancellor positions, which makes the move to terminate Lombardi now hardly a surprise.

This would be the first step in implementing recommendations made by the aforementioned Louisiana Flagship Coalition. The nearly 50-person coalition includes an eclectic mix, such as Demo­cratic political strategist James Carville, self-described conservative Baton Rouge contractor Lane Grigsby, and largely Raising Cane’s founder Todd Graves.

Flagship Coalition co-Chairman Sean Reilly, who is the Baton Rouge CEO of Lamar Advertising, presented a proposal to the Association of Past Presidents of the LSU Student Body, which includes Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, state Department of Economic Development Secretary Stephen Moret and other prominent officials. He advocated moving LSU closer to the University of Florida umbrella model.

LSU would no longer have campuses running the length and breadth of the state, from Shreve­port to Alexandria (UNO already joined the UL system last year).

The Flagship Coalition, and many on the main campus, want LSU to oversee the law center, the AgCenter, Pennington and the medical schools as one umbrella entity. The chancellor positions of those institutions would remain but report to a consolidated “president-chancellor,” Reilly said.

The other LSU academic campuses, like the one in Eunice, would operate within the system as satellites of the Baton Rouge campus, Reilly said. The Flagship Coalition has taken no stance on the Louisiana Tech merger with LSU-S, but privately, sources close to Reilly have said that a merger with LSU-Shreveport into the Univ­ersity of Louisiana System would be accepted.

The Lamar CEO argued that the organizational change would create more backroom efficiencies and consolidated services. The other key change is that LSU should quickly go up multiple spots in college ranking lists like the U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges. By adding the research power of several institutions into one entity would dramatically improve LSU’s standing, he said.

However, others go further, saying that LSU-E, since it is a two-year school, should move to the community college system, and LSU-A would likely follow LSU-S into the University of Louisiana system as the terms of any deal. Consequently, LSU’s main campus is the only undergraduate institution left for LSU to govern.

And the law school and the two medical schools, in Shreveport and New Orleans, would go under the main campus’ governance.

The political blog The Hayride noted the wrinkle in the plan. “Then comes the big bite—those Charity Hospitals. Not only isn’t LSU going to be in charge of them; nobody will, because the Charities will be going away, and along with them will go some large part of $650 million in annual brick-and-mortar costs the state is laying out.”

“Most of those facilities are sellable to private hospital groups; Ochsner, for example, has been trying to get hold of the one in New Orleans for years without any success (and might very well make a play for L.J. Chabert Medical Center in Houma, Lallie Kemp Regional Medical Center in Ham­mond or the Bogalusa Medical Center before it’s over).

“But that will be a very, very ugly fight, and it’s in all likelihood the final step in collapsing LSU’s empire down into a main campus bent on competing nationally. It’s doubtful any effort will be made to offload the Charity facilities in whole next year.”

This article was originally published in the May 7, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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