This will be one of those weeks that I will not forget anytime soon. The week began for Tech with a huge uncertainty about the State’s budget – an uncertainty that was not cleared up until 6:00 pm on Thursday. At risk was the future of higher education and healthcare in Louisiana due to a huge budget gap. Over the past few weeks, I have been comforted and encouraged by the fact that so many of our representatives and senators had vocally and actively advocated for higher education as their top priority in the legislative session. And there was evidence that most were in agreement that new revenues had to be found to make up the budget gap. Over the past couple of weeks, there was some positive momentum in moving revenue bills through the committees on both sides of the Capitol. However, the success of the budget plan was highly dependent upon certain measures that pitted different sectors against each other, philosophically and politically.
Kathy & I visited the George Bush Library at SMU
I wanted to go to the Capitol on Monday to show my support for higher education and our legislative leaders, but I had a Conference USA Board meeting in Dallas that I really needed to attend. So Kathy and I drove over to Dallas last weekend and spent some time touring around SMU to get some ideas about campus improvements. Monday’s Board meeting gave me a good chance to visit with other C-USA Presidents and board staff. There are quite a few complex issues that the Board has had to consider recently, reflecting the increasing complexity of the college athletics landscape. However, I am very pleased our conference remains focused on the success of our students and on building a strong conference which can consistently compete at the national level with integrity and class.
Kathy and I drove back to Ruston on Monday evening. I got up early Tuesday morning to head down to Baton Rouge to the legislature and it was good to be there to answer questions and provide encouragement to our delegation who were having to make most difficult decisions. I was honored to be invited to eat in the House dining room by Reps. Jim Fannin, Rob Shadoin and Alan Seabaugh. Rep. Bubba Chaney also joined our table. I could tell that everyone was needing some break time, so we did not discuss much politics there. These visits to the legislature have really helped me to understand how challenging of an environment it is to get things accomplished during the session. While I was at the Capitol, one of the key measures necessary to achieve the Governor’s budget neutrality goals was shot down in a committee, and I knew that was a signal that it was not going to be easy to meet the budget goals by Thursday evening.
I returned home late Tuesday and spent Wednesday in the office. I began with a budget meeting with my budget manager and CFO. Of course, there was not much concrete planning that we could do because there were so many uncertainties in how the legislative session would work out. Later in the morning, I met with a consultant who is helping us in a major fund-raising initiative. Then, after a few phone calls and a little time to catch up on the legislative activities, I went to the Ruston Rotary Club to make a presentation about the University. I thoroughly enjoyed the time there, visiting with many of our community leaders in attendance. I had a few more meetings in my office later in the day.
Viewing progress of new CSC Offices from CIC
On Thursday, VP Stan Napper and I drove over to Bossier City to meet with our partners at the Cyber Innovation Center to discuss various initiatives that we are working on together. We had lunch with one of our industry partners from AMDOCS who has set up offices in Monroe near CenturyLink and was driving though Bossier City on his way back to Dallas.
After lunch, I returned to our house to follow the last four hours of the legislative session. I will not go into all of the details, but it was a very stressful time for me, and I know that it had to be very challenging for those in the legislature who were trying to get all bills considered in the waning hours of the session. And the key pieces of legislation that would ensure that higher education’s base budgets would be preserved were not passed until the final few minutes of the session that ended at 6 pm. Now, we are sorting through everything to see what the exact impacts are going to be on our campus budget. But I am confident that we will have a situation that we can manage, and that we will be able to sustain the progress of our institution. I am truly grateful for the commitment and tireless efforts of our legislative leaders in securing funding for higher education. I know that all of them had tough choices to make, and I am glad that higher education remained a priority for them. We must make sure that the next legislative session builds upon this one to reinvest in higher education to ensure the long-term competitiveness of our State and economic prosperity and opportunities for our children.
Dr. Jarrell with Eva Edinger, Anna Blake, Julianne Tippen & Morgan Tanner
I closed the week out on Friday with a reception for the Miss Louisiana contestants who are Tech students or recent graduates. Kathy and I hosted them for lunch and invited Dr. Guthrie Jarrell and other benefactors to be there to wish our ladies well. Dr. Jarrell has been a great benefactor of Tech and also a tremendous supporter of the Miss Louisiana program for many years. It was a special time for us all and this was a perfect way to end a most challenging week.