Rally ‘round the flagship

Rally ‘round the flagship

Losing Eli Jones, the dean of LSU’s business college, in a lateral move to the University of Arkansas is, sadly, the latest wave in a rising tide of evidence that Louisiana’s flagship institution is listing badly.

Why would Jones exit just as the university’s new $52 million high-tech business college complex is about to open its doors? It’s not over money, as LSU was willing to match the Arkansas offer. No, Mr. Jones will soon be calling the Hogs home because he sees the future for LSU—and it’s not pretty.

Even more disturbing: He’s not alone in that view.

Spin this disastrous scenario any way one wants, but there’s no denying LSU’s main campus is hemorrhaging leadership. Jones is the third dean over the past 16 months to make a lateral move away from LSU. Moreover, the vice chancellor for research and economic development post, arguably the No. 2 position on campus, has been vacant since Brooks Keel left more than two years ago. The CIO job has been open since Brian Voss bolted for the University of Maryland last June; the search for a replacement is presently on hold. Dozens of other top-flight faculty members have left LSU over the past 24 months, many to universities with equal or lesser academic reputations vis--vis LSU. The odyssey of finding a permanent provost has dragged on for nearly two years and the interim provost, Jack Hamilton, has no intention of staying past this academic year.

True, one university raiding the talent of another is common in today’s world of higher education. Right now, however, LSU is the raided, not the raider. Said one high-ranking university official, “You can’t take $92 million in [budget] cuts over three years and not expect your top talent to start asking questions.”

Amping up the chaos is the fractured relationship between LSU System President John Lombardi and Mike Martin, the chancellor of LSU’s flagship campus. Lombardi has never been an ardent supporter of the Baton Rouge campus, and he seems content to ride out the remaining months on his contract by 1] working to retain as many schools under the LSU brand as possible and 2] firing off emails directing campus leaders not to dare say a bad word about Gov. Bobby Jindal or his administration.

The likable Martin is on the hot seat, having fallen out of favor with the governor. Multiple sources say Martin was likely to lose the chancellor job later this year as part of a Jindal-backed proposal to significantly restructure the LSU administration, but that plan is either on hold or has been scrapped as the governor is focusing on K-12 education and state pension reform.

What’s undeniable is that the flag flying over LSU is more tattered than the one seen over Fort McHenry in the dawn’s early light.

It’s time to rally ’round the flagship university and save LSU.

It’s time to focus resources on the main campus while repurposing the LSU System. Several schools—including LSU-Shreveport, LSU-Eunice and LSU-Alexandria for certain—need to follow in the footsteps of UNO and transfer their flags to either the University of Louisiana or the Louisiana Community and Technical College systems. The LSU campus in Baton Rouge, its law school and research centers—including the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, which is struggling to tread water due to a lack of funding—should be the system’s epicenter. What remains should function to enhance and support the flagship agenda.

Seriously, explain how it’s a good thing that every campus within the LSU System has its own lobbyist at the Capitol fighting to take funds from another LSU campus? How is it right that monies are taken from the Baton Rouge campus and spent to prop up poorer campuses within the system? Such populism hasn’t been seen since the days of Huey Long, but at least the Kingfish looked out for the Baton Rouge campus.

It’s time we get as upset about losing Eli Jones to Arkansas as we get about losing football recruit Landon Collins to Alabama.

It’s time for anyone who cares about LSU, the future of higher education and the long-term prosperity of this state to open their windows and scream, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

Simply put: Louisiana’s flagship university is sinking as a nationally respected academic institution. It matters little where LSU shows up on the higher education rankings. What matters is the message clearly being sent by the mass exodus of LSU’s best and brightest talent.

There is good news: The athletic department and TAF have enough self-generated money to expand Tiger Stadium.

To borrow an oft-borrowed quote, it’s time for LSU to have a university its football team can be proud of.

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