Governor Jindal Talks Higher Education on Facebook

After being criticized by a Louisiana State University student in a letter to a New Hampshire newspaper about higher-education budget cuts last week, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana decided to take the debate to a platform familiar to students: Facebook.

In a post on his official page on October 19, Governor Jindal called on college students and all  Louisiana Facebook users to lend their “thoughts and voice to the conversation of how we can increase the value of your education” amid a statewide financial crunch. “Our government is spending more than we can afford, and I believe our universities are delivering less value than you deserve,” Governor Jindal wrote.

By the weekend, more than 200 people had replied to the governor’s call, offering suggestions to improve higher education in the state. And about 80 more people replied to a follow-up post from the governor on Thursday thanking students for their input.

The governor’s Facebook post came just one day after a letter from J. Hudson, president of Lousiana State University’s student body, was printed in a newspaper in Keene, N.H., where the governor was scheduled to attend a political fund raiser. In the open letter, which was also sent to newspapers in Florida, Iowa, and Wisconsin, Mr. Hudson asked Mr. Jindal to return to Baton Rouge to deal with sweeping cuts in the state’s higher-education budget, instead of spending time stumping for GOP candidates in other states.

“Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is spending more time in your state than the one he was elected to represent,” Mr. Hudson wrote in the letter. “We want to know why he’s not devoting all his time to the future of his state and its young people.”

Mr. Hudson sent the letters after Louisiana State student leaders were denied a meeting with the governor, who had been busy helping with GOP campaigns across the country. “As LSU students, we are scared for the future of our university,” Mr. Hudson said in an interview. With the governor away from Baton Rouge, students weren’t getting “a clear plan for what LSU is going to do with these cuts,” he said.

When the governor first posted his call for ideas on Facebook, Mr. Hudson said he was skeptical that any real solutions would come out of the discussion. But he came away impressed with the quality of the responses. “When you think of a forum on Facebook, you think of short responses, not very well-thought-out answers,” he said.

While a number of Facebook comments simply criticized the governor’s handling of higher education, many provided specific suggestions for streamlining university budgets. A number of student respondents called on the state to reduce administrators’ salaries and streamline top-level positions. “Cut the salaries at the top. Use the saved money to keep schools afloat and maybe even cut the deficit some,” wrote Zack Paul, who identified himself as a student at LSU at Alexandria.

Facebook users were also supportive of amending the Louisiana Constitution to restructure the budgeting process and restrict the legislature from slashing education spending in hard times. “I understand the fiscal responsibility that is in mind with the regulations in the State Constitution, but an amendment needs to be made to encompass our current situation,” wrote Jacob Wood, who said he was a student at LSU at Shreveport.

Although Mr. Hudson said he was happy to see student engagement on Facebook, he is not sure the governor is taking student suggestions seriously. “I hope he wasn’t just using this forum to gain other people’s opinions and just go with his own opinions,” Mr. Hudson said. “This is not whining and complaining. They’re actually giving solutions.”

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