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Removal of college campuses from LSU system argued

26th November 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

The proposal to consolidate the disparate elements of the LSU System in to a single administrative structure under Louisiana State University has drawn more praise than criticism amongst educational experts. One of the university’s Professors tells The Louisiana Weekly that simple tweaking will not achieve the goal of letting the flagship university concentrate on its research mission, however. Instead, Dr. Jeff Sadow maintained, his North LA campus—and a couple of others—should be broken away from LSU and brought into the ULL and Community College Systems respectively.

The major step to restructure LSU, the merger of the offices of President of the LSU System and Chancellor of the University, is already underway. It follows a plan, drawn for the LSU Board of Supervisors by the Richard T. Ingram Center for Public Trusteeship and Governance, a non-profit that consults on the area of higher education. The proposal takes a long step towards the “One LSU” concept that has been floated by a number of interests in the state. It’s a good beginning, argued Sadow, a professor at Louisiana State University at Shreveport. It just doesn’t go far enough.

Put simply, under the Ingram proposals, the separate universities, professional schools, research/public service agencies, and medical educators/providers would cede some autonomy and fuse their admin operations across the Pelican State, to some degree, with the Baton Rouge mother campus. Much independence would be retained, though, yet there is a hope that the improved structure would promote cost savings, efficiency, and increased stature over the present system.

“The goal,” according to Richard Novak, Executive Director of the Ingram Center, “for LSU and all of its campuses is a single, regional accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). The transition from separate accreditation for each current LSU System institution to a single accreditation for LSU as a single integrated, multi-campus university is allowable under SACS rules. Such a practice is followed for Pennsylvania System University and its 22 campuses, and for Rutgers University and its three institutions.”

“LSU can benefit from instituting a single curriculum with a common course numbering system for all of its campuses. A single general education curriculum also is a logical and necessary component of a successful, flagship institution. This facilitates a synergistic, unified approach to LSU academic policy, enables and encourages collaboration among various LSU campus faculty, and facilitates student mobility (assuming students transferring to campuses with higher admission standards demonstrate that they meet those standards). “

“There is a single application form for all campuses, with indicated preferences. Each campus retains its separate admissions requirements. Students need not re-apply when transferring between campuses if they meet all academic requirements. Considerable coordination is required to create and draw the above elements together.”

It is hardly an original idea. In fact, the merged LSU structure would resemble several other state university systems. The consolidation of the academic administrative apparatus and the back-office functions has the potential to create a major financial savings to the LSU System members, and ti mirrors recent reforms undertaken by the Southern University System.

Schools would still continue to make personnel decisions, choose coursework offered (beyond a standardized General Education Requirement), and leave auxiliary programs intact such as sports and academic teams. Their overall independence would not be lost, and the initial combining would go into effect until the 2015 academic year.

Dr. Jeff Sadow, Professor of Political Science at LSU-S, applauds those moves, yet he worries that they keep institutions under LSU that distracts the Baton Rouge Campus from its primary mission. In fact, he proposed to this newspaper that his school, and the several other LSU campuses, should leave the LSU System altogether—much as the University of New Orleans did last year.

As he explained, “While the proposed reconfiguration of the Louisiana State University System brings with it many salutary characteristics and strengths, the nagging question remains about whether some of the things the system tries to do would not be done better with alterations to it.”

“[C]oncerns remain about whether the arrangement leaves the system doing too much,” he continued. “The ‘flagship’ concept argues that governance must concentrate on creating a premier educational institution yet that stresses research as much as teaching, creates the highest standard of excellence from students, and is designed with statewide needs in mind.”

“This immediately brings into question the placement of the baccalaureate-and-above institutions in Alexandria and Shreveport, and the community college in Eunice in, or even as part of, the system. The proposal has their leaders report to the subordinate of essentially the LSU-BR head.”

“[T]hat does not seem designed well to allow these schools to pursue their missions, which concentrate much more on teaching than research; have much lower admission standards, which mean a different target audience with different goals for use of their education; and are to serve regional needs, which may not overlap with, if not conflict, with a statewide focus.”

“Even a cursory glance should inform that a community college is very much a fish out of water under this scenario. It’s also questionable whether this structure could meet optimally the purposes of the four-year campuses. As such, better would be to remove these three units, sending one into the Louisiana Community and Technical College System and the others to the University of Louisiana System.”

“Of greater dubiousness is the insistent on keeping peripheral units to the core educative function. While the Agricultural Center and its associated units perform useful research, the extension centers are more service-oriented entities that might fit better under the Department of Agriculture and Forestry. With far greater finance and provision implications, the new ordering would continue to run the entire charity hospital system, which as a result now puts the system in this functional area much more in the role of a healthcare provider than medical educator.”

“Recent restructuring of the Charity [Hospital] system, by reducing half of its institutions into shell facilities large enough only to avoid legislative involvement in micromanaging system decisions, to continue to draw federal money, and to perform specialized tasks such as prisoner care, already is causing significant retrenchment in the LSU System’s interjection into healthcare provision. This begs for the system not to stop at half measures.”

Sadow explained that he often argued that “there’s no reason medical education cannot be concentrated solely at the New Orleans and Shreveport hospitals, where these could be retained by the system, and the remainder taken under Department of Health and Hospitals administration.”

“This would allow the system to hone in on what its main job is supposed to be, educating, not spending so many resources and dividing its attention on trying to run a business,” the political scientist observed.

“Naturally, asking a government agency to shed authority and resources, as this does, goes against the very grain what makes bureaucracy tick. However, the supervisors are not and should not think like bureaucrats in this regard, Yes, there’s a small amount of prestige lost by making the empire you oversee smaller, but for the state the benefits outweigh the costs.”

Sadow urged the Board of Supervisors to go further, and approve these changes. The LSU-S Professor’s ideas reflect the arguments of several legislators, who have maintained that the answer to the myriad of College Boards in Louisiana, is to concentrate higher education in the University of Louisiana System, leaving LSU alone independent to fulfill its research and cutting-edge educational mission.

So far, though, only UNO has left the LSU System, and most state hospitals remain under LSU control. With medical cut backs, though, to plug the massive deficit in the Louisiana budget, several of the medical institutions face closure—a rather final way of ridding the from the LSU System.

This article was originally published in the November 26, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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