BATON ROUGE, La. – The latest round of college budget cuts, combined with threats of still more to come, provoked protest Tuesday from LSU faculty and students and a burgeoning movement that promised more organized opposition when negotiations on next year’s budget begin.
The gathering of about 150 professors, instructors and students was billed as a “memorial service” to lament cuts in state funding that the protestors called devastating to the campus. They picked a location sure to attract attention: across the street from a celebration event for LSU’s 150th anniversary.
“We suffered from some cuts last year, but this year’s cuts are really going to decimate the curriculum,” said Dr. Helen A. Regis, an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Anthropology.
The campus’ annual budget was cut by nearly $13 million this month, as agencies across state government lost money in budget reductions ordered by Gov. Bobby Jindal to close a midyear deficit. That comes on top of a reduction in state funding earlier this year.
Notices are going out to about 300 instructors, telling them they may be laid off at the end of the year if the school grapples with another round of expected budget cuts starting in July when the new fiscal year begins.
John Wharton Lowe, an English professor, said laying off the instructors in his department would leave nearly all introductory composition classes, required for most students, without a teacher. Professors would have to teach those classes, and they may not be able to fit in many other specialized courses needed for English majors and graduate students, he said.
“If you can’t get the courses you need, you can’t graduate. And this is going to have a devastating effect on course availability,” he said. “It’s just unthinkable that they’ll do this.”
Organizers of Tuesday’s protest collaborated on the social networking site Facebook and pledged a continued, coordinated effort to oppose further budget cuts for higher education.
“We will keep the pressure on them,” said Tania Nyman, an English instructor who organized the protest event.
Nyman said Jindal and lawmakers worsened the state’s money problems by passing a tax cut for middle- and upper-income workers.
“Governor Jindal wants you to think these budget cuts are necessary belt-tightening in tough economic times. That’s not true,” Nyman told the crowd.
A spokesman for the governor, Kyle Plotkin, said the state’s income took a hit this year because of falling sales tax collections as spending shrank in the tight economy. Plotkin said the tax cuts helped Louisiana’s economy fare better than other states during the recession.
“Increasing taxes now on Louisiana families and businesses and taking more money out of their pockets is exactly the wrong thing to do during these tough economic times,” Plotkin said.