LSU Chancellor/Staff Senate Forum Held June 16
Video of the forum available on the LSU YouTube channel
BATON ROUGE – On Thursday, June 16, LSU Chancellor Michael Martin participated in a Chancellor/Staff Senate Forum in the LSU Student Union Capital Chamber. Martin provided updates on the status of the LSU budget, current and future legislative decisions, and how the Louisiana Flagship Coalition is helping LSU.
While things remain fluid regarding the Legislative session, Martin addressed what has happened thus far and which bills university administrators are following, including those affecting retirement, LA Grad Act II, and HB1 and HB2.
“I think we started the session in pretty good shape in that the governor’s budget and the executive branch made a commitment as best they could going into the legislature to try to hold higher education harmless,” he said.
Martin said that if either or both retirement bills pass through the legislature, he feels that the bills have been modified enough that the direct impact on employees will be zero or minimal.
“The information I’ve tried to provide at every turn informally and formally was our faculty and staff simply can’t afford to take a hit, in light of the fact that many hits have already been taken,” he said.
Martin recapped LA Grad Act and discussed the importance of LA Grad Act II for the university.
“This is a piece of legislation we’re very supportive of; in this sense, I believe it’s very much in our best interest,” he said.
While discussing LA Grad Act, Martin addressed tuition increases, including this week’s Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget’s approval of a 10 percent increase in tuition for colleges statewide, and the opportunity for more autonomy with purchasing commodities.
“LA Grad Act II is designed to give us the chance to modify certain business practices on the nonacademic side, which we believe can over time save significant money, and these are not practices that are radical or new. Most of the universities of our comparators around the country have already adopted them,” Martin said.
Regarding the 10 percent tuition increase, Martin believes that higher tuition will save students money in the long run. If the university continues to take budget hits, LSU would be forced to offer fewer sections of courses, leading students to have to stay in school longer to finish their degrees, he said.
“If we can give them a chance to graduate expeditiously and efficiently, they are better off paying a bit more now than paying a lot more having to stay and complete degrees that they ought to have been able to complete more quickly,” Martin said.
When tuition increases, there may be concern about pricing out students, but Martin said LSU has been accessible even as costs have gone up, and the university remains committed to being accessible to all students who qualify.
“There’s not a qualified student in Louisiana who cannot afford to come to LSU,” said Martin, who pointed out the state’s TOPS program and LSU’s Pelican Promise as assistance opportunities for students. “Anyone out there who thinks we’re pricing good students from Louisiana out of Louisiana State University, look at the packages we give.”
Martin said that the two major bills, HB1 and HB2, are moving forward through the legislative process. HB1 is the base budget for all public entities and HB2 provides the comprehensive capital outlay budget.
Martin talked about the long-term adjustments the university will have to make, including moving away from a heavy dependency on the state for appropriations. This year is the first that the state appropriations are less than half of LSU’s operating budget.
Martin noted that LSU has emerged as a nationally recognized, highly respected university, allowing students to get into graduate and professional programs they would not otherwise be able to enter. This past year, the university had the second-largest freshman class in the history of LSU, and it was also the highest quality and the most diverse freshman class ever.
Martin said anything that damages LSU’s national recognition and reputation is a permanent detriment to students who graduate expecting that their degrees will open doors.
“The name at the top of those transcripts opens doors … and if you diminish that value, it is a negative annuity for the balance of those students’ lives,” he said. “Paying a bit more now, pays off big dividends in the future.”
Martin talked about the formation of the Flagship Coalition and how the group has been an advocate for all of higher education across the state “because they all understand how powerful a good higher education system can be in advancing the economic and social well-being of the state.”
“Those individuals have put their own time, money and political power and influence to bear on our behalf,” he said. “It sends a message that people who know, care. That’s a very important message … that we are not alone here.”
Another topic of interest for university employees was salaries. Martin told the staff that his hope is to find some salary adjustments in the future for employees.
“We need to reward people for hard work. We have got a smaller and smaller workforce doing more work than they’ve done in the past, and at some point the public owes it and we owe it to you to recognize that,” Martin said. “It isn’t we have forgotten about it, but right now, it’s been my judgment, it’s better to keep as many jobs as possible and reward them later than eliminate jobs and not know if you can reward people later or at all.”
Following his opening statement, Martin took questions from the audience on topics such as hiring during the budget crisis, the possibility of UNO moving out of the LSU System, the proposed formation of one board for higher education, and the budget hole left from unfunded mandates.
“There’s still much to do,” Martin said. “Despite the fact that the storm clouds might not be quite as dark, there’s still a storm out there, and we’re still recovering from the last one … we’re going to be dealing with this storm for some time.”
Martin closed by praising the staff for everything they do to make LSU a great university.
“From this chair I sit in, and I’ve now sat in this chair almost three years, you should be proud of the fact, that first of all, you work at a great university, but we should be proud of the fact that you made it that way,” he said. “The people of Louisiana have benefited enormously from the success that you have brought to this university … given the state of the state, it’s remarkable how good LSU is, and that’s a testament to the people who show up every day and make it such and it’s a testament to the people out there who love it so intensely that they’re willing to work hard to make it that way.”
Video of the forum is available at the LSU YouTube channel or directly at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LD9QDXjk7Ts.