This op-ed was originally published on NOLA.com. You can find it here.
Higher education in Louisiana is currently making headlines in light of the budget crisis that could possibly trigger $300 million in budget cuts. Since our governor is currently on the presidential campaign trail and Louisiana has divested more from higher education than just about every other state, this crisis has naturally called attention from all over.
The Washington Post has covered it. So has The New York Times. NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune and the Baton Rouge Advocate have been extensively covering the issue. Politico did a particularly interesting article on the ramifications this mess could have on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s presidential campaign. Though the coverage has been directed towards Jindal and his campaign, there has been adequate attention on the numbers and the facts behind the budget crisis.
There’s only one problem: Not a single article has asked a single Louisiana student how we feel about this. Students across the state have been reading, listening and watching updates on the budget crisis, but we have not once been asked about our reactions or our proposals. Since no one has asked us, we have come to the conclusion that we must represent our own interests.
We are concerned. At best, these spending reductions will cut numerous programs and result in the layoff of hundreds of people, including many of our instructors and professors. At worst, the budget cuts will be so devastating that schools will have to close their doors.
We are strapped for cash. In the last five years, tuition at LSU has increased by 200 percent, a fact that our governor doesn’t seem to know. Despite the possible tax credit for college students and potential revenue from a controversial cigarette tax, an additional increase is all but unavoidable. This is a frightening inevitability, especially since no one seems to know exactly how deep these cuts will go.
We are aggravated. On Jan. 24, Gov. Jindal held a prayer rally on our campus that gathered a crowd of thousands. In the midst of this were numerous protests, including one protesting Jindal’s proposed cuts to higher education that was largely ignored by both Jindal and the press. Student grassroots organizations are popping up all over the place, and students have even taken to the state Capitol in an effort to have their voices heard, all to little avail. It is hardly surprising that no one has had anything to say to these groups — Jindal’s administration has remained largely silent on the entire issue — but it is frustrating nonetheless.
We understand the assumption that goes along with students and political issues. The budget is a very complicated and complex document. Students are assumed to be indifferent about these issues because they are hard to understand. And it’s true; these issues require significant study.
However, there are particular facts we certainly do understand and cannot ignore. We understand that the size of the cuts is roughly equivalent to the size of TOPS and the entire community and technical college operating budget. We can foresee that cuts this large will lead to increased tuition and in turn increased financial strain on ourselves and our families. We know that if we lose course instructors, course offerings will soon follow. We suspect that if courses are cut, our pathway to graduation is threatened or lengthened.
We seek input into the conversation; our futures are on the line. At the end of the day, neither the Jindal administration nor the state Legislature will have to worry about how they are going to pay for school next year. The burden of lost professors and deteriorating infrastructure won’t just fall on the university. These changes will become part of our everyday experience.
As students, we understand the nature of our jobs and the job of the Legislature. However, we feel that the interests of those directly affected by the multi-million dollar cuts should be represented at the table. Everyone’s asked Gov. Jindal. They’re asking the Legislature, public policy experts, pundits and the like.
Valencia Richardson and Kira Schuette are co-founders of Geaux Vote LSU. They are joined in this opinion essay by Garrett Clawson, co-chapter leader, Students for Education Reform at LSU; Lauren Guillot, president, Common Sense Action LSU, and Emmanuel Smith, president, Students for Education Reform LSU.