ALEXANDRIA -- Sandra Woodley, president of the University of Louisiana system, told a gathering of educators here Saturday that she saw herself as an advocate for faculty and that she was committed to articulating the value that universities provide to Louisiana.
The first-year college system president was speaking at the Alexandria Summit, a joint meeting of the Association of Louisiana Faculty Senates, the state conference of the American Association of University Professors and the Louisiana Statewide Colleagues Collaborative. The gathering on the campus of LSU-Alexandria attracted about 40 professors from 15 colleges in Louisiana. Kevin Cope, president of the LSU Faculty Senate, served as the main organizer of the event.
The professors also heard comments from Louisiana’s commissioner of higher education, Jim Purcell, who expressed hope that bills will be passed during the upcoming state legislative session to help improve funding for colleges.
Woodley, who was the chief financial officer for college systems in Alabama, Arizona, Kentucky and Texas, before coming to Louisiana last year, said she is concerned about the devastating effect another deep budget cut would have on the state’s colleges in addition to the millions of dollars public education has lost over the last four years. “It would be an unprecedented management challenge,” she said.
Some universities may be facing financial exigency, she said, and in that situation a process involving getting as much information as possible on the impact must be initiated, and faculty must be an important part of that path. “I am really very hopeful that we won’t have to go down that path at all. But we have to be prepared if we do go down that path.”
Asked whether faculty should be involved in decisions, she assured the group that she felt they should be. “I always err on the side of giving information,” Woodley said. “I do not keep secrets. I want things debated.”
One faculty member, Dayne Sherman of Southeastern Louisiana, told Woodley he felt that after four years of budget cuts, Louisianans are saying they are ready for an end to funding problems for education and health care. Woodley responded by saying the legislature seems to be caught up in a “political/ideological” battle over the budget issues and that she was not sure if the time has come whether or not to resolve the funding problems.
“I will work with institutions,” she said,” to come up with data to show our (colleges’) impact, do an honest evaluation of our strengths and weaknesses and get our story together to show what we do.”
Three of the nine universities in the University of Louisiana system, including Southeastern Louisiana University, are currently on the AAUP’s censure list, which amounts to a vote of no confidence in the commitment of those university’s administrations to providing the best education possible. Asked whether she would push those institutions to repair their reputations so they could be removed from the censure list, she said censure may not be a top priority because of the financial problems, but she was committed to upholding AAUP’s ideals that support faculty involvement in administrative decisions.
Woodley also guaranteed there would be much more cooperation between the UL system and the LSU system in the future.
Purcell gave details on how deep cuts to higher education have been; 53 percent of LSU’s budget over the past four years has disappeared, and at Southern University 60 percent is now gone.
In the past, colleges were able to meet their financial needs for the most part by relying on a mixture of state appropriations and tuition. The commissioner told the professors he has been working toward coming up with a new formula for helping colleges fund their high cost programs, but they should brace for big changes in the future that will require them to be involved in finding new ways to generate revenue schools.
“Efficiency and assessment will all have to be a part of higher ed funding,” Purcell said. Some of the activities he suggested that may be coming for universities:
- increased laboratory fees for students in specialized areas, such as music and the sciences.
- rental fees for the use of buildings by non-campus organizations.
- local property taxes and millages for individual programs at colleges.
- limiting enrollments based on local workforce needs.
- offering academic credit and certification to people who have experience in industry.
Other presentations at the Alexandria Summit were led by other educators. Michael Walker-Jones of the Louisiana Association of Educators spoke about Senate Bills 117 and 118 designed to develop an outcomes-based funding formula for the state’s colleges, Larry Jarrell of Louisiana Tech described technical developments at his institution, Brian Salvator of LSU-Shreveport spoke about universities’ public outreach and Hala Esmail of LSU spoke about the use of website and social media tools for college faculty.