The board of the University of Louisiana System, which oversees several state universities including UL Lafayette, has begun working on a plan — in the absence of state lawmakers and/or the Jindal administration figuring out a way of softening the blow — to tackle nearly $400 million in projected budget cuts. The plan relies in part on media coverage and a strong show of support for higher education at the state Capitol in May.
According to newly released documents, the system and campus leaders met at the end of January to discuss the scope of cuts the system faces, which includes more than $315 million in base funding and just under $68 million in cuts to programs.
The meeting also reviewed existing system policy for such things as terminating faculty, discontinuing academic programs, furloughing employees and offering incentives to tenured faculty to retire early.
Also among the discussion items was a “legislative strategy” prepared by Rachel Kincaid, the board’s vice president of external affairs, and consultant Paul Rainwater. That legislative strategy includes convincing lawmakers to grant system member universities more autonomy in setting tuition and fees as well as suspending some mandated costs. System President Sandra Woodley also pressed the issue of “unified messaging,” including media coverage and engaging alumni.
A “University of Louisiana System Day” is planned for May 28 at the Capitol — about a month into the spring legislative session — during which the board plans to galvanize a show of support for finding a solution to the budget crisis. Among the ideas batted around for new sources of revenue for the system, leaders discussed suspending for one year and refinancing retirement-system payments, which would save a projected $95 million. The board also discussed pushing for dedicating an increase in the state’s tobacco tax to higher education as well as creating an Internet sales tax devoted to higher ed.
Gov. Bobby Jindal is expected to release his executive budget on Feb. 27, at which time higher-ed officials will have a clearer picture of how deeply the cuts will go.
Locally, UL Lafayette officials are bracing for roughly $20 million in cuts. According to a recent account in The Advertiser, the administration has done little in the way of preparing to absorb the cuts. That, however, doesn’t square with what sources told The IND for our February cover story, “We Get What We Vote For,” which reported that the administration at Martin Hall has in fact been planning extensively for possible cuts.