Sunday, May 26, 2024

5 higher education bills to watch in Louisiana’s legislative session 

by BIZ Magazine

By Piper Hutchinson, Louisiana Illuminator

Of the hundreds of bills prefiled ahead of next week’s regular legislative session, dozens would have far-reaching implications for Louisiana’s public colleges and universities. Here are five of the most notable proposals that impact higher education. 

Senate Bill 174 – Tenure 

The bill, as written, codifies employment practices already in place at many universities that require annual faculty reviews and spells out the tenure revocation process. 

The author, Sen. Stewart Cathey, R-Monroe, is known for his opposition to tenure, which provides an indefinite academic appointment to qualifying faculty members who have demonstrated excellence in their field. Academics with tenure can only be terminated for cause, and it typically only happens in extreme circumstances. Higher education leaders view tenure as a key part of academic freedom at public universities and a shield against political, business and religious intervention. 

Cathey caused a controversy in higher education when he created a study panel to review tenure practices. Its members were never convened, and Cathey opted to file this year’s bill without the input from the panel. 

While the current version of the bill does not make major changes to tenure practices in Louisiana, it’s worth following. Cathey said he still wants to abolish tenure, and higher education leaders are concerned about the effect his bill will have on recruitment efforts. 

House Bill 565 – LSU security district

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Freiberg, R-Baton Rouge, creates a security district around LSU’s Baton Rouge campus. 

The district, which includes the Tigerland bar area, aims to combat escalating crime at the university by providing an increased law enforcement presence. 

Safety at LSU has been scrutinized following the rape and death of LSU sophomore Madison Brooks in January. The 19-year-old was fatally struck by a car after being dropped off by three men, two of whom are accused of  raping her, after they left Reggie’s bar in Tigerland. Police said Brooks blood alcohol content was too high for her to have consented to sex. 

While Reggie’s remains closed pending a hearing on its alcohol license, LSU President Willaim F. Tate has called for bars in Tigerland to take responsibility for underage drinking. 

Freiberg’s bill would charge  property owners in Tigerland and other  areas surrounding campus a parcel fee  that would pay for  an increased law enforcement presence. 

Senate Bill 191 – Sports gambling partnerships 

Sen. Gary Smith, D-Norco, filed a bill that would prohibit colleges and universities from entering into sports gambling partnerships

LSU is one of just seven universities nationwide to form such a partnership. Its agreement  with Caesar’s Sportsbook caused backlash, especially after it was revealed the athletic department sent promotional offers to underaged students

While Smith’s bill would not sever an existing partnership, it’s worth watching as more schools cozy up to the money gambling companies bring. 

Senate Bill 128 – Affirmative action 

Senate Bill 128, filed by Sen. Jay Morris, R-West Monroe, would prohibit public colleges and universities from using a student’s race, sex or national origin as criteria for offering admission. The bill would also prohibit giving preferential treatment to students applying for scholarships, grants or financial aid based on the same criteria, unless the donor requires it. 

The bill would allow students who feel they have been wronged by a violation of the law to sue for damages. 

Affirmative action seeks to provide for inclusion of marginalized groups, such as racial minorities, to bridge historical inequalities that prevent them from economic or educational opportunities. 

Morris’ bill would disrupt decades of common higher education practices. Its impact on Louisiana’s universities would be extensive. 

House Bill 400 – Representation on boards of supervisors 

House Bill 400, filed by Rep. Cedric Glover, D-Shreveport, proposes a constitutional amendment to require alumni from  each school in the Southern and LSU systems have a seat on their respective board of supervisors. 

In an interview, Glover said he wanted to ensure representation for the regional schools on the two boards. A graduate of Southern University Shreveport, a two-year college, has never been appointed to its system board, he said. 

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