Saturday, April 20, 2024

‘Statewide university’: What LSU’s new strategic framework means for LSUS, others 

by BIZ Magazine

PIPER HUTCHINSON | The Louisiana Illuminator

The long-awaited strategic plan for Louisiana’s flagship university calls for a new vision of LSU, one administrators are calling the “statewide university.”

This new version of LSU will combine its main campus in Baton Rouge, satellites in Shreveport, Eunice and Alexandria, its two medical schools, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, the LSU Ag Center and parish extension offices into one statewide research engine.

“Our Louisiana model is a purposeful enterprise occurring anywhere that the work must be done… the point is to not fixate on who we are based on sets of buildings, because the work is done by people wherever the work must be done.”

“This means that ‘our state’ is ‘our campus,’” the plan continues.

LSU provided a draft copy of the strategic framework to the Illuminator. The final version must be published by university President William Tate by mid-April. The 27-page plan represents the culmination of over two years of work to set the course for the future of LSU.

The framework will be supplemented by campus-specific strategic plans still in progress. Read the full draft below.

With the combined weight of its institutions, LSU hopes to obtain a top-50 ranking among research universities nationwide.

The National Science Foundation (NSF), an independent federal agency, tracks research and development expenditures at American universities and compiles annual rankings. Its evaluation is the standard used in higher education and was referenced by LSU Vice President of Strategy and Public Policy Jason Droddy when he presented the draft plan to the LSU Board of Supervisors on Feb. 23.

In 2022, LSU ranked 84th overall with $345 million spent on research. The NSF rating includes the main campus, the LSU Ag Center and Pennington Biomedical Research Center, all based in Baton Rouge. By comparison, the 50th-ranked institution, the University of Colorado Boulder, spent $611 million on research in the same period.

But according to a National Science Foundation spokesperson, LSU can’t compile all of its campuses statewide into a single slot to improve its research rankings.

“Each campus with its own chancellor, president or similar head is considered its own institution, a categorization established in 2010… That allows for more comparable data between private institutions and multi-campus state institutions,” the spokesperson said. “We approach the Louisiana State system as we approach all state systems, per those parameters.”

LSU spokesperson Todd Woodward said increasing the schools’ research expenditures is necessary to achieve national prominence and acceptance into the prestigious American Association of Universities, a collection of the nation’s leading research schools.

Statewide strategy
For years, LSU System administrators have been criticized for neglecting its campuses outside of Baton Rouge. Beyond research, the new concept of a statewide university is meant to aid students, service local communities and bring its far-flung siblings into the fold.

“The way I think about this, one statewide university is that it’s an effort to be a more coherent entity in the 21st century,” LSU Shreveport Chancellor Robert Smith said in an interview. “It’s a tremendous opportunity to capture the strengths of all the campuses in LSU and leverage them for better service to our community and to the state.”

A statewide university — and the collaboration that involves — could mean a more efficient use of state dollars at a time when the future of Louisiana’s higher education expenditures is in question.

A temporary 0.45% state sales tax expires next year, and some conservative lawmakers have expressed reluctance in renewing it. Without the tax, the state projects increasing budget shortfalls over at least the next few years. As one of the two largest portions of the state budget without statutory or constitutional protection, higher education and health care are usually first on the chopping block.

Smith said LSU Shreveport’s excellence in online programming can save the state money in setting up similar programs at other universities. With further collaboration, LSUS could use a faculty member at another LSU System school to teach a necessary course at LSUS.

Notably missing in the new strategic plan are all forms of the word “diverse.”

Principles of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) have come to be expected in higher education and in university strategic plans. LSU’s last strategic plan, released in 2017, placed an emphasis on diversity.

LSU rebranded its inclusion office and scrapped most of the DEI language on its website earlier this year, just one business day before a conservative Republican governor was sworn into office. Wording on was instead shifted to “engagement.”

In defending the shift, Tate said the change in language was part of the university’s strategic planning process.

“We shifted to engagement… because it was just important to rename it and make it clear that we were going to put resources behind it in the strategic plan,” Tate told the LSU Faculty Senate in January. “And that’s what you tend to do in strategic plans. You name what you’re going to fund.”

Three references to engagement as a stand-in for diversity appear in the draft plan.

“Our culture must be one of engagement creating a vibrant experience with equal opportunities for all and ensuring that everyone has the chance to thrive and succeed,” one portion reads.

The strategic framework lays out engagement as a key part of the service goals of the “statewide university.”

“Our focus on ‘engagement’ demonstrates the level of involvement and commitment the people of the Statewide University have to each other and with those in the broader Louisiana community,” the plan reads.

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