I had to laugh after reading the following gem from Sen. Robert Barham in the May 17 edition of The Independent Weekly: "There is a group of people I am convinced ' and I'm not pointing the finger at anybody ' who believes Louisiana's approach with a flagship university is not the best. Primarily these folks are associated with UL [Lafayette]. They want Lafayette to be the University of Louisiana. And they believe it would be better to have a dual system in Louisiana." Such a scenario, claims Barham, would "guarantee mediocrity at best."
I am a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin (flagship of The University of Texas System). I think I'll pass the senator's comment along to friends and associates from Texas A&M University (flagship of the Texas A&M University System), Texas Tech University (flagship of the Texas Tech University System), and the University of Houston (flagship of the University of Houston System). I'm sure they'll be amused to hear the senator's pronouncement that mediocrity is the guaranteed result of higher education systems with two or more comprehensive universities.
Competition and cooperation among Texas' major universities have been very good for academics across the board and for the state's economy; and I think Sen. Barham would be hard-pressed to find alumni and other supporters of UT, TAMU, TTU and UH who think otherwise.
LSU alumni appear to have a very different view of the matter. They seem to be afraid of competition from in-state schools ... so much so that politicians like Sen. Barham will do whatever is necessary to shackle other universities in a misguided effort to protect LSU. I have not seen anything in other states that is as ridiculous and as counterproductive as LSU's obsession with making all other state universities ride in the back of the bus.
As long as Louisiana clings to a one-horse model of higher education, nothing much of note will happen here. The state will remain mired in mediocrity, and you can bet that Texas and other states, which have adopted more expansive models of higher education, will continue to eat Louisiana's lunch.