The State Conference Executive Committee met on Saturday, November 7, 2015 at the Student Union of Southern University. Present were Leslie Bary, Al Burstein, Linda Carroll, Brooks Ellwood, Ravi Rau, Steve Rushing, and Sudhir Trivedi. Two guests attended, Gerald Hecht from the Psychology department at Southern University, and Commissioner of Education Joseph Rallo.
Commissioner Rallo spoke to some issues facing higher education, saying that the past two years have seen more challenges than ever. Nationally, the tenured ranks have shrunk to 25% of faculty. The humanities and liberal arts are especially out of favor, and competency-based education in the form of online degrees or certificates spreading (N. Arizona university offers now a 6 month $2500 degree.) The debt burden on students has meant, for instance, a precipitous decline in Law School applications.
Louisiana, in particular, has special problems. It has a highly under-educated populace with <50% holding high school diplomas. The budget for higher education has, in the past 7 years, been cut in half from $1.5 billion. Worse, two years ago, the TOPS item of $260 million, a separate item before, was moved into the regular budget, representing a further decrease in the $750 million number. Students are now paying 75% of the cost in tuition. The state is “fixated on work force,” legislators focused only on the existence of jobs (mainly in the oil industry) paying $75,000 plus benefits for workers with high school competency and a certificate of qualification in welding, process handling, etc. Legislators and many Board members seem not to see the need for 4-yr degrees, especially in arts and humanities, feel that faculty do not get it and are in a cocoon.
There is a “disconnect between faculty passion and advocacy.” Faculty try to reason on the value of higher education, not a winning strategy with legislators so focused narrowly on low-skill jobs.
In other matters discussed: The State Conference’s website is being upgraded. Campus chapters are also encouraged to have an active online presence and tie their websites to the state conference’s. There will be an annual meeting in April 2016, most likely on the Tulane University campus in New Orleans. Elections for new office bearers will take place at that time. For any ideas you may have for activities or speakers at the meeting, please let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org