Budget Cuts Take Toll on Higher Ed
After five years of steep budget cuts, some members of LSUnited, the faculty union, are hoping the legislature’s budget negotiations will raise enough revenue to prevent further cuts.
Lawmakers are looking at plans to cut tax exemptions and get rid of one-time funds, which might provide more stability to the state’s universities.
Michael Russo, a librarian and an instructor, said LSU’s finances are dismal.
"A half billion here, a half billion there," Russo said, "I don’t know what else they can cut."
Filing past students, Russo climbed the stairs to the second floor of the campus’ biggest library, to a classroom.
"The ceiling looks like it’s been strafed with a machine gun," said Russo. "The tiles, several of them are dangling, just about to fall. It was during one of the classes that one of these tiles actually fell down and slammed onto the floor."
Over the past five years, there hasn’t been money in the university budget to fix everything.
Dr. Anna Nardo, a tenured English professor of 38 years, says professors are leaving.
"We lose more and more every year. There’s one right down the hall. She’s going to go teach high school in Lafayette and make $10,000 more," said Nardo.
"In fact, if you have a family of four, we calculated this out. If you have a family of four, with a starting salary at LSU, we qualify for food stamps."
LSU professors have been on a pay freeze for the past five years. Nardo says as professors leave, class sizes get bigger, and students are given less individualized attention. Freshman retention is already slipping.
Fewer classes can be offered, and students will take longer to graduate if they can’t fit required courses into their schedules.
The teachers’ union brings its case to the Board of Supervisors every month, hoping the board will act as a megaphone to the legislature.
"Now, do legislatures want their sons and daughters taught by people who qualify for food stamps? What they need to understand is, we teach your children," Nardo said. "We teach your sons and daughters. The conditions of the faculty are the learning conditions of the students."