LSU outlines dire budget scenarios, layoffs and course cuts

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Widespread layoffs, hundreds of classes eliminated, academic programs jettisoned and a flagship university that can't compete with its peers around the nation — those are among the grim scenarios LSU leaders outlined in internal documents as the threat of budget cuts looms.

Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration is considering deep budget slashing to higher education for the fiscal year that begins July 1 to help close a $1.6 billion shortfall.

LSU campuses from Shreveport to New Orleans were asked to explain how a reduction between 35 percent and 40 percent in state financing — about $141.5 million to the university system — would affect their operations. The documents, compiled for LSU System President F. King Alexander, were obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.

The potential implications of such hefty cuts were summed up in stark terms: 1,433 faculty and staff jobs eliminated; 1,572 courses cut; 28 academic programs shut down across campuses; and six institutions declaring some form of financial emergency.

"That kind of cut, it's just almost cartoon-like," Alexander said in an interview Friday.

At the system's flagship university in Baton Rouge, the documents say 27 percent of faculty positions would have to be cut, along with 1,400 classes, jeopardizing the accreditation of the engineering and business colleges. Some campus buildings would be closed.

"These severe cuts would change LSU's mission as a public research and land-grant university. It will no longer be capable of competing with America's significant public universities and will find itself dramatically behind the rest of the nation," the documents say.

The scenario goes on to say that budget cuts of 35 percent or more to LSU's main campus would damage educational quality and deteriorate the university's ability to compete with its peers, "significantly impacting the value of an LSU degree for our students."

The documents also describe ripple effects, saying reductions in course offerings and academic programs would make it more difficult for students to finish their degrees or discourage some students from enrolling at all.

That could mean higher levels of student debt for students who take longer to wrap up their classes and lost tuition revenue for campuses when other potential students choose not to attend, campus leaders said in their write-ups.

Any reductions would come on top of $305 million in state funding cuts since 2008 that eliminated more than 1,900 jobs across campuses and forced widespread program restructuring. The university system has a $975 million budget this year, about 40 percent from the state general fund. Seven years ago, 74 percent of the budget came from the state, according to LSU.

Alexander said he's working with legislative leaders to lessen cuts next year. He said he's encouraged by the conversations, but so far, no consensus has emerged for a specific plan.

The LSU System includes the main campus in Baton Rouge and smaller campuses in Alexandria, Shreveport and Eunice, along with medical schools in New Orleans and Shreveport, a biomedical research center, an agricultural center and a law school.

Each campus offered its own lists of how the cuts would be divvied up.

LSU at Alexandria worried its entire campus could lose accreditation. LSU-Eunice said it would be forced to choose between closing its entire health sciences division that serves 30 percent of its students or lose 10 individual programs. The Shreveport campus said it would have to cut one-fourth of all academic programs.

LSU Law Center Chancellor Jack Weiss described the reductions as "extremely severe if not catastrophic." He said he'd have to cut summer stipends, an apprenticeship program, research grants and a law clinic and furlough faculty and staff.

At least five agricultural research stations and the parish-based extension program run by the LSU Agricultural Center would be shuttered, in a state where agriculture is one of the largest industries, according to the documents.

The university system's well-known research institute, the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, said cuts of the magnitude proposed would force it to cut 191 jobs, suspend some of its work on chronic diseases and mothball 48 percent of its valuable research space.

Executive Director William Cefalu said scientists would leave, taking their research and grant dollars with them, worsening the impact of the cuts.

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