Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

`Tuition-Gate' Scandal Hits Louisiana Politicians

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

`Tuition-Gate' Scandal Hits Louisiana Politicians

Article excerpt

FOR radio talk-show host David Tyree, there hasn't been anything like it: a slowly unfolding story of political corruption that has clogged the lines to his popular evening show every time he goes on the air.

"You can talk about the congressional pay-raise matter, the House banking scandal, even the 1991 election here between David Duke and Edwin Edwards," said Mr. Tyree, whose show is heard on station WWL, which broadcasts across much of the South. "Nothing equals the anger people are feeling over this. It's incredible."

What has gotten people so upset and has also jammed phone lines for legislators' offices across Louisiana is a scandal many call "scholargate" or "tuitiongate," the revelation that nearly every top political figure here has, through the years, sent members of his or her family or close friends to prestigious, expensive Tulane University for free, during a time when other students without financial resources may have been denied this opportunity.

"I don't have to think very long about why we received hundreds and hundreds of calls on this," Tyree said. "This is the kind of scandal that everyone can instantly understand because everyone knows how incredibly expensive it is to go to school these days. That other kids who may not be hurting financially have gone for free has made people nothing less than furious."

Even though a law allowing politicians to award scholarships to Tulane is more than 100 years old, it wasn't until last month that tuition-waiving became a public issue when Mayor Sidney Barthelemy awarded 1 of 5 scholarships he has control over to his son. Mr. Barthelemy, who earns more than $90,000 a year in a city whose per-capita income is just over $21,000, defended his action, arguing that without such a scholarship he could not afford to send his son to Tulane.

Responding to public-information requests, however, other politicians - including United States Sens. J. Bennett Johnston (D) and John Breaux (D), and Reps. Jimmy Hayes (D), Bob Livingston (R), and Richard Baker (R), and a handful of state legislators - have also revealed that their children have received tuition-waivers to Tulane, fueling the public's outcry. Mr. Johnston was the only legislator to have sent two children for a total of eight years and cost savings of more than $138,000.

"This is a classic example of why so many people become cynical about politics," said David Vitter, a Republican state lawmaker and one of the most vocal critics of the system. "The biggest thing wrong is that it rests fundamentally on the absolute discretion of our political leaders and, to me, that just makes the possibility for abuse wide open.

"Even if you take out immediate family members," he said, "there is clearly plenty of abuse left to go around with scholarships going to the sons and daughters of elected federal officials, other state officials, and significant financial-backers. …

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