Circling the drain

It’s time to contact your state representative and senator and tell them: Higher education in Louisiana has been cut enough already. Figure out how to increase revenue — Bobby Jindal’s political fantasies be damned.

The scope of potential cuts to the University of Louisiana System, including UL Lafayette — inarguably the most vital economic engine in Acadiana — cannot be understated.

Higher education overall in Louisiana is anticipating north of $400 million in proposed cuts when Gov. Bobby Jindal releases his executive budget next week. Of that, the UL System is anticipating having to shoulder between $87 million to more than $130 million, representing an expected 40-60 percent funding reduction, respectively. (See charts below, which were distributed to system leaders for a meeting on Feb. 9.)

UL Lafayette, the largest member of the UL System, received for the current fiscal year just under $44 million from the state, which is almost one third of the university’s $136 million total budget. If the worst-case scenario — a 60 percent cut in state support — comes to pass, that would represent a nearly 20 percent reduction in UL Lafayette’s total budget.

What entity, be it a family, a business, a nonprofit group, can sustain a 20 percent cut in its financial resources without making profound accommodations to its operating model? Families can eliminate discretionary spending, assuming they have any. Businesses can raise prices. Nonprofits can reduce services. And UL Lafayette will be forced to do the same — by cutting programs and services, laying off adjunct faculty, jettisoning support staff.

And what have state lawmakers done for the last five or six years of the Jindal era, which resulted in $700 million in cuts to higher ed? They’ve wrung their hands and gone along with Jindal’s supply-side absolutism, convincing themselves there was nothing they could do because higher ed and health care, unlike so many line items in the state budget, have no constitutional funding protections.

Enough already. We can’t help but suspect, with a Republican-controlled Legislature and a state that has been trending red for nearly a decade as a backdrop, that cuts to higher education are met with a shrug by nearly everyone — lawmakers and regular folks alike — because they feed that inane conservative meme that universities are just repositories of liberal elitism and precious, emasculated “book learnin’.” Jindal, an Ivy Leaguer and Rhodes Scholar, has recklessly used that corrosive language, so why should he — really, truly — give a damn about cuts to higher education? Professors are pansies, after all, right? They’re not “real Americans.”

Read our February cover story, “We Get What We Vote For,” for a wider view of the crisis facing our state and some practical steps we’ve recommended to address it.