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What If There’s No "S" in LSU?


Imagine this: it’s a cool autumn Saturday night, and there’s no football in Tiger Stadium. In fact, there’s no LSU football at all, because the state’s flagship university is closed for the year. LSU System President F. King Alexander says the possibility is real.

“This budget reduction is so large, we’d have to furlough everybody for an entire year,” Alexander told the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday.

“We’re looking at about an 82 percent budget reduction,” Alexander said of the 2016 state budget proposal, which has revenues falling $1.6-billion short of needed expenditures. “That’s the largest single budget reduction in the history of American higher education.”

Facing a worst-case scenario that Alexander calls “ruinous”, at a minimum LSU will have to cut course offerings next year by 50 percent, cancelling approximately 2000 classes in the 2015-16 school year. Alexander says that’s not the message they really want to deliver when trying to recruit new students.

“You ought to come to our university, because we’ll spend less on your son or daughter than anyone else in the United States,” Alexander said, with no lack of cynicism.

Of course, LSU Athletics is profitable, and has been contributing millions to help prop up academics as state financial support for higher education has consistently declined. But even the success of LSU sports isn’t enough to fix this, Alexander says. He notes that the “S” in LSU, which stands for Louisiana State University — doesn’t mean what it used to.

“In many ways, that ‘S’ isn’t as big as it used to be, because we’re only 13 percent funded from the state of Louisiana,” Alexander observed. “If this cut goes unaddressed in our legislative session, we will go down to 2.9 percent coming from the state.”

Budget cuts could total $743-million across higher education. While there is the governor’s proposal for colleges to increase fees, and then provide an income tax credit to reimburse those fees — funded by raising the cigarette tax — it’s not generating much enthusiasm from lawmakers. With just three weeks until the start of the legislative session, Alexander says there’s no firm plan in place to avert the massive cuts.

“Right now, we’ve heard all kinds of plans. And right now, we’re concerned that some may have better traction than others, but that may not last,” Alexander laments. Then he adds, with a bit of hope, “Whatever’s out there that has the most traction, we’ll certainly back it.”