Late last month, a bill that would have extended the authority of LSU and the state’s other public higher education institutions in establishing and setting the rates of mandatory student fees for the next three years was unexpectedly tabled by state Senate President Page Cortez (R- Lafayette).

According to two people with direct knowledge of private conversations between the senator and supporters of the legislation, Cortez repeatedly expressed his frustrations over a close family friend being placed on the waitlist at LSU Law School, strongly suggesting a connection between his decision to table the bill, which had sailed through the state House unanimously, and the school’s admission of the applicant. Both sources requested anonymity, citing concerns over angering the state senator.

The applicant, whose name was neither requested by nor disclosed to the Bayou Brief, was admitted into another in-state, private law school. Notably, however, in-state tuition at LSU Law is nearly half of the price charged by both of the state’s two private law schools, Tulane and Loyola in New Orleans. Over three years, a student at LSU Law would likely spend between $60,000 to $80,000 less than a student at Tulane or Loyola Law.

The legislation became critical to higher education as a result of the novel Coronavirus pandemic. Even with the addition of $113 million in federal funding through the CARES Act, the state’s four public postsecondary systems face a $22 million funding cut, including $10 million for the state’s flagship school, LSU.

Along with continuing “fee autonomy,” House Bill 689 by state Rep. Jerome “Zee” Zeringue (R- Houma) would have also allowed other postsecondary institutions the ability to establish the same kind of independent “procurement authority” or “operational autonomy” currently enjoyed by LSU, and it sought to allow schools the ability to self-insure and oversee their own risk management protocols. LSU, for example, has been able to save $45 million annually by carrying its own insurance.

“Many students and their families have been upset about the steadily rising fees,” reported Hailey Auglair of LSU’s Manship School News Service on May 18th. “But with the state facing a budget hole of at least $1 billion as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, universities are bracing for more cuts in state appropriations. The extension would provide them with leeway to raise fees if they cannot make up the shortfalls.”

The use of fees, Auglair also noted, first became necessary as a way of offsetting the enormous cuts to higher education imposed during the Jindal administration and the restrictions the former governor imposed on tuition costs. “The universities turned to fees to raise funds after lawmakers and former Gov. Bobby Jindal restricted tuition increase out of concern that higher tuition would add too much to the cost of the TOPS scholarship program,” Auglair explained.

LSU’s Paul M. Hebert Law Center is accredited through the American Bar Association, and those familiar with the accreditation process express concern over a school being forced to change its admissions criteria because of political pressure over a waitlisted applicant.

Last year, LSU Law admitted 206 of the “nearly 1,000” people who applied to the school.

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Lamar White, Jr.
Lamar writes about the people, the politics, and the magic of Louisiana. He is the founder and publisher of the Bayou Brief and a contributing writer for the Daily Beast. Lamar is best known for his investigative reporting on public corruption, racism, and civil rights. He has appeared as a guest on CNN, MSNBC, and the BBC, and he's been the subject of profiles in The Washington Post, The Advocate, and Huffington Post. Before launching the Bayou Brief, he published CenLamar, a popular blog that initially covered the drama of City Hall in his hometown of Alexandria. Lamar is a graduate of Rice University in Houston and the Dedman School of Law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Today he lives in New Orleans and is currently writing a book about the life of reputed New Orleans Mafia boss Carlos Marcello.