LSU Faculty Senate Publications

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Message from President: Few would doubt that LSU and Louisiana higher education have made enormous progress over the last thirty-odd years. The notion that history progresses and that institutions advance has been out-of-fashion for aeons, yet it does seem that the onetime Old War Skule and its cohort campuses are doing a lot more in a much better way than they did at their inceptions. Sustaining the linear if not altogether teleological progress of Louisiana higher education, however, is the boom-and-bust cycle of the Louisiana economy, a cycle driven by the price of and demand for natural resources and related services. Over time, we have been lucky enough to be one of those few spots in the universe that seem, if not to defy, then to find ways to exploit entropy. Year in and year out, decade after decade, the boom-bust cycles seem to get bigger and perversely better. Somehow or other, Louisiana comes up with a greater and grander higher educational system, a system that seems to drag, crawl, scamper, or otherwise yank itself toward improvement even when its economic foundation resembles an out-of-control merry-go-round. Despite all the talk and fear about budget cuts, we can expect as well as hope for a day when Louisiana institutions, including LSU, emerge from the economic slump in slightly grander and stronger form. The expectation—some might say certainty— of recovery raises the question of economic justice both before and during the prosperous time to come. All of which is to say that it is already time to raise the question of raises. The members of the current managerial caste in Louisiana universities evidence a surprisingly naive commitment to the cult of celebrity that emerged during their childhood, amidst the transition from the Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer studio system to the suntanned and star-studded era of George Hamilton and Gina Lollobrigida. The academic equivalent of this People Magazine mentality is the conviction that (a) there are certain “star” academics who can raise a department through their intellectual charisms; (b) there are likewise certain parties who are graced by a certain je ne sais quo that has nothing to do with any personal or institutional support; (c) occasionally such a person erupts from the home campus, whereupon he or she is converted into a household god in need of perpetual veneration; and (d) persons evidencing stellar attributes must be retained at any price, without reference to the fates of those who work around them. Whenever more money comes in, the hard-working faculty and staff of LSU will look for the jettisoning of institutional superstitions relating to compensation. Few would deny that there are some persons of greater talent and accomplishment than others and that those persons merit rewards. By the same coin if not token, few who have reached the heights of academic celebrity or, with that, the heights of compensation have worked in a vacuum or have not benefitted from the assistance of the many noble persons who comprise an academy. To ensure that justice is served, a post-recession LSU will need to consider a variety of adjustments to its reward system. For example, LSU might initiate a form of indexation, in which the salaries of all employees would be adjusted upward in some reasonable proportion or by some understandable formula. The very highest salaries might be constrained and a “star” or two lost, but the overall morale and productivity of the institution would increase, as would the coherence of institutional behavior with institutional mission. Still another possibility, that I will expound in my column next month, might be the decoupling of faculty from their “native” colleges so as to align themselves with those units where their services are relished and rewarded (thereby increasing interdepartmental and interdisciplinary cooperation). Third, LSU, even now, should consider a moratorium on retention packages to those who threaten to abandon the Flagship until such a time as a reward system for loyalty may be deployed. Louisiana schools, whether or not flagships, will recover, but while doing so they need to provide grateful coverage for those who have sustained damages during the tempest. With all good wishes, Kevin L. Cope, Faculty Senate President