Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Grambling Figures into Outcome for Louisiana Governor

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Grambling Figures into Outcome for Louisiana Governor

Article excerpt

Financial problems, credentials controversy come back to haunt Republican candidate


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. …

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