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Louisiana panel’s goal: Improve higher eduation

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Written by
Mike Hasten
Gannett Capital Bureau

 

 

  

 

BATON ROUGE — A new Governance Commission is looking at far more than governance as it probes ways to improve higher education in Louisiana.

But it appears that it’s not going to be a witch hunt or an activity that dumps everything on the table, says Shreveport Rep. Thomas Carmody, whose legislation established the panel.

Instead, judging from the focus of its organizational hearing Friday, “it’s going to stay on point, instead of getting out into the weeds.”

Carmody says some study panels get little accomplished because they wander off the point and get wrapped up in minutia. He said the panel is focused and ready to “do surgery with a scalpel, not a chainsaw.”

Although Carmody’s HCR184 was filed the day legislation establishing a single board of higher education failed in the House, he insists he’s “not married to a single board.”

Instead, he wants the commission to suggest changes — whether dealing with governance or not — that will lead to better colleges and universities.

Passing a constitutional amendment establishing a single board was one of the issues pushed by Gov. Bobby Jindal in the 2010 and 2011 sessions. Both proposals authored by Speaker of the House Jim Tucker failed, just as previous attempts have since the 1980s.

The closest the Legislature came to passing such an amendment was under Gov. Buddy Roemer, when then-Sen. Mike Foster cast the deciding vote against a House-passed bill. Several years later as governor, Foster unsuccessfully pushed to establish a single board.

Voters rejected the idea in 1974 when they approved separate system management boards, with the Board of Regents as an overall governing board, in adopting a new state Constitution.

 

The Constitution presented the two options — a single board or the Regents as policy board and management board for the LSU and Southern systems and a board for regional institutions. A strong majority opted for separate boards.

Carmody said he intended the study to be “a critique, rather than criticism. We can’t just throw Molotov cocktails over the wall. We need to do reconnaissance” before deciding what changes to make.

(Page 2 of 3)
 

“We’re here to work and try to improve what we have,” he said.

Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, who coauthored Carmody’s resolution, said legislators are frustrated about higher education.

“It’s been a failure and we need to change it,” he said. “We want the Board of Regents to have the authority to do what it needs to do to make this the best system in the country.”

Schroder said lawmakers are frustrated that universities haven’t made bigger steps toward improving graduation and dropout rates. “You’re not making changes fast enough,” he said.

Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, a commission member and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, responded.

“This problem exists and much of it is caused by a poor secondary education system that delivers students who are not prepared for postsecondary education,” he said. “It’s because of the failure of having students prepared. We cannot lose sight of the pipeline that delivers students.”

“The biggest injustice is that we allow students in college knowing full well they’re not going to succeed,” Schroder said. “We know darn well they can’t succeed, but we need their money.”

While Jindal and some legislators want to switch to a single board and eliminate management boards that handle campuses within their systems, an international consultant on higher education governance says that it probably wouldn’t be the best approach for Louisiana.

Aims McGuinness, with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, cautioned commission members not to throw out current governance and start over because it would be expensive and take years to rebuild.

“Governance comes up in times of severe economic crisis,” McGuinness told the board. “If you can make the existing system work” by clarifying responsibilities and authority, “you’d save millions of dollars in time that you’d spend making total reorganization.

“Be careful what you’re doing,” he warned. “The cost of reorganizing is tremendous.”

McGuinness said states have a wide variety of governance models but there “is not one specific ideal model I can point you towards because each structure addresses that individual state’s history, culture and circumstance.”

(Page 3 of 3)
 

He said there are things to learn from other states “but do not copy.”

A major flaw, McGuinness said, is “about half of the states in this country still run higher education like it was the highway department.”

Proponents of a single board often point to North Carolina as a success story, but McGuinness said he wouldn’t recommend that any state try to copy it because it has its own set of problems.

Besides financial circumstances, another thing that sparks talk of governance changes is turnover in the legislature and the governor’s office, he said. “People are coming in without a clue of what’s going on. They feel intense pressure from constituents to do something” and changing governance is the first thing that’s proposed.

“It does not work anywhere in the world to have a successful higher education system run by short-term leadership,” McGuinness said. “If there’s a problem under the bed, it was probably put there by a lobbyist for one of the systems.”

Dr. Phillip Rozeman, a Shreveport cardiovascular surgeon who serves on the commission, said the panel is looking at “what we can do to move higher education forward and not concentrating on a single board.

“You can’t do governance without dealing with other factors, like the tuition and fee policy, student aid and the funding formula,” he said.

Carmody said the commission, through targeted subcommittees, will diagnose the problems in higher education.

“Give me a diagnosis and give me a scalpel and I’ll make sure the patient survives,” he said. But making changes without first finding out what’s wrong “is like doing surgery with a chainsaw.”

Carmody described Friday’s hearing as “post-graduate education in how systems are set up. I think it would have been beneficial for every legislator and the governor to have heard this. It’s all about education.”

 “We’re here to work and try to improve what we have,” he said.

Rep. John Schroder, R-Covington, who coauthored Carmody’s resolution, said legislators are frustrated about higher education.

“It’s been a failure and we need to change it,” he said. “We want the Board of Regents to have the authority to do what it needs to do to make this the best system in the country.”

Schroder said lawmakers are frustrated that universities haven’t made bigger steps toward improving graduation and dropout rates. “You’re not making changes fast enough,” he said.

Sen. Ben Nevers, D-Bogalusa, a commission member and chairman of the Senate Education Committee, responded.

“This problem exists and much of it is caused by a poor secondary education system that delivers students who are not prepared for postsecondary education,” he said. “It’s because of the failure of having students prepared. We cannot lose sight of the pipeline that delivers students.”

“The biggest injustice is that we allow students in college knowing full well they’re not going to succeed,” Schroder said. “We know darn well they can’t succeed, but we need their money.”

While Jindal and some legislators want to switch to a single board and eliminate management boards that handle campuses within their systems, an international consultant on higher education governance says that it probably wouldn’t be the best approach for Louisiana.

Aims McGuinness, with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, cautioned commission members not to throw out current governance and start over because it would be expensive and take years to rebuild.

“Governance comes up in times of severe economic crisis,” McGuinness told the board. “If you can make the existing system work” by clarifying responsibilities and authority, “you’d save millions of dollars in time that you’d spend making total reorganization.

“Be careful what you’re doing,” he warned. “The cost of reorganizing is tremendous.”

McGuinness said states have a wide variety of governance models but there “is not one specific ideal model I can point you towards because each structure addresses that individual state’s history, culture and circumstance.”

He said there are things to learn from other states “but do not copy.”

A major flaw, McGuinness said, is “about half of the states in this country still run higher education like it was the highway department.”

Proponents of a single board often point to North Carolina as a success story, but McGuinness said he wouldn’t recommend that any state try to copy it because it has its own set of problems.

Besides financial circumstances, another thing that sparks talk of governance changes is turnover in the legislature and the governor’s office, he said. “People are coming in without a clue of what’s going on. They feel intense pressure from constituents to do something” and changing governance is the first thing that’s proposed.

“It does not work anywhere in the world to have a successful higher education system run by short-term leadership,” McGuinness said. “If there’s a problem under the bed, it was probably put there by a lobbyist for one of the systems.”

Dr. Phillip Rozeman, a Shreveport cardiovascular surgeon who serves on the commission, said the panel is looking at “what we can do to move higher education forward and not concentrating on a single board.

“You can’t do governance without dealing with other factors, like the tuition and fee policy, student aid and the funding formula,” he said.

Carmody said the commission, through targeted subcommittees, will diagnose the problems in higher education.

“Give me a diagnosis and give me a scalpel and I’ll make sure the patient survives,” he said. But making changes without first finding out what’s wrong “is like doing surgery with a chainsaw.”

Carmody described Friday’s hearing as “post-graduate education in how systems are set up. I think it would have been beneficial for every legislator and the governor to have heard this. It’s all about education.”

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Written by demon53

August 22, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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