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Financial problems, credentials controversy come back to haunt Republican candidate

Financial problems, credentials controversy come back to haunt Republican candidate
By Scott Dyer

Grambling State University’s recent financial problems came back to haunt former University of Louisiana System President Bobby Jindal in the recent runoff for Louisiana governor.
The 32-year-old Republican ran into flak on the campaign trail for not doing enough to help Grambling resolve its fiscal problems while overseeing the system from 1999 to 2001. Democrat Lt. Gov. Kathleen Blanco won 52 percent of the vote in the Nov. 15 runoff election by pounding Jindal for a spotty record not only as a former University of Louisiana system president, but also as the state’s top health official.
When Blanco is sworn into office in January, she will become the first woman to serve as Louisiana’s governor. The son of immigrants from India, Jindal was vying to become the first man of color to serve as the state’s governor in recent history. In the state’s 191-year history, the Louisiana governor’s mansion has been occupied by a White man for all but 35 days.
Blanco came from behind to win the race. She was a distant second in the Oct. 4 primary election with only 18 percent of the vote. Jindal, with the help of outgoing Gov. Mike Foster, was the top finisher in the primary with 33 percent.
During the six-week runoff campaign, Blanco trailed Jindal in most polls. But the former school teacher gained ground by hammering Jindal for his record as a bureaucrat. On several televised debates, she took Jindal to task for failing to take sufficient action to solve Grambling’s problems during the two years that he oversaw the University of Louisiana system. As a result, Grambling nearly lost its accreditation and its ability to offer Pell Grants and other federal aid.
“Nothing was happening when Bobby was there. It’s a good thing he left when he did,” Blanco said in one televised debate. Grambling did not have a clean audit while Jindal was running the University of Louisiana system, and that nearly cost the school its accreditation.
Blanco said Jindal was only appointed to the University of Louisiana system president’s job because of his political connections with Gov. Mike Foster. Blanco pointed out that Jindal did not have a doctorate degree or prior experience in higher education, even though both requirements were listed in the University of Louisiana system advertisement seeking applicants for the president’s job. However, the ad stated that other exceptional candidates could be considered.
A Rhodes Scholar who became the state secretary of Health and Hospitals at age 24, Jindal was pushed by Foster as an exceptional candidate for the University of Louisiana job.
But during the height of Grambling’s woes, one North Louisiana newspaper criticized Jindal by claiming that the “whiz kid” had turned into the invisible man. Jindal insisted that he was hired for the job because of his track record as a proven manager, not because of his political connections. “There’s a trend in higher education to hire system officers who are managers, not just academics,” Jindal said.
The problems at Grambling started a year before Jindal took over the University of Louisiana system, when a group of key records were accidentally lost during a computer conversion. Jindal insists he put the framework in place that eventually helped to solve Grambling’s problems after he left the University of Louisiana system.
But during the campaign, Jindal found himself haunted by allegations that he didn’t move swiftly enough or commit enough resources to help Grambling. Among those supporting Blanco’s criticism of Jindal was state Rep. Richard “Rick” Gallot, a Democrat whose district includes Grambling. Gallot said one of the biggest problems at Grambling has been political interference from the governor and state legislators.
“With Bobby, they waived the requirements of a doctorate degree to name who the governor wanted,” Gallot said. “For far too long, the politicians have decided who would be university presidents, and that’s just wrong.” Gallot also claims that former Grambling President Steve Favors, who was forced to resign in early 2001 by Jindal, would never have been hired except for a political edict from the governor.
“It was only because of a certain legislator’s influence with the governor, who called the governor and said this is who we want, that Favors was hired in the first place,” Gallot said. Gallot said he didn’t like the way Favors was selected for the job, but felt as if Jindal and the system’s governing board never gave him the resources needed to fix Grambling’s problems.
When Jindal moved to fire Favors, Gallot said he attempted to intervene. Gallot said he was present at a private meeting when Jindal gave Favors the option to either resign or get fired — and thought it was handled terribly.
“Bobby (Jindal) came in and told Favors, ‘Finance isn’t your forte, things aren’t getting any better, so I’m asking you to resign or be fired. And by the way, I’ve got the votes to have you fired,’ ” Gallot said.
Gallot said the person who deserves credit for saving Grambling is the current University of Louisiana system president, Dr. Sally Clausen. “If you compare what was done under Bobby’s administration and what has gone on under Sally’s, it is night and day,” Gallot said. “Bobby took the approach, ‘You guys have got a problem, fix it,’ whereas Sally has taken the approach, ‘All right, let’s roll our sleeves up, let’s figure this thing out and see what we need to do to straighten it out,’ ” Gallot added.
Grambling’s recovery under Clausen has been remarkable. The school was placed on probation by the regional accrediting agency, and there are indications that the probation could soon be lifted. In October, a special committee appointed by the accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, gave the school a glowing evaluation, citing strong indicators of significant progress.
Another major figure who credits Clausen — not Jindal — with correcting Grambling’s woes is James Bradford, president of the Grambling State University Alumni Association.
Bradford said Jindal was “like a fish out of water” at the University of Louisiana system.
“He didn’t know what he was doing as an administrator over an education system,” Bradford said.
Bradford agreed that Favors was never given a sufficient chance to straighten out the school’s financial mess. “They wouldn’t allow Dr. Favors to function as the president. Bobby and the board wanted to tell him who to hire and who to fire,” Bradford said.
Bradford said Jindal is extremely intelligent but was short on experience. “I might be smart as hell, but that doesn’t mean that if you put me in the cockpit of a jet for the first time, I can fly it,” Bradford said.

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