William Richardson, Benedict, Linda F. | 3/11/2006 3:40:52 AM
Years of budget cuts have taken their toll on the LSU AgCenter, and Friday (March 10) its chancellor received approval from the LSU Board of Supervisors to proceed with a plan for financial "exigency."
"This is truly a sensitive and difficult subject," LSU AgCenter Chancellor William B. "Bill" Richardson told the board. "But I pledge to you it will be handled as fairly as possible with a minimum amount of impact on our faculty."
The exigency status could last up to one year, beginning July 1, 2006. But Richardson said he is hopeful he will be back at the board meeting in a year or less to say his efforts to realign the LSU AgCenter’s mission with its resources have been fully implemented, and that exigency status is no longer necessary.
"This is a short-term solution that does not solve our long-term budget problems," Richardson said.
Over the past five years, the LSU AgCenter has lost more than 200 positions, including research scientists and extension agents. The total number of employees statewide now stands at about 1,250.
"Exigency allows for flexibility," Richardson said. "I do not know yet the specific ramifications of the plan. But I know we cannot continue to cannibalize ourselves."
Although the LSU AgCenter’s total budget has increased over the past few years, the percentage that has had to go to such costs as health insurance and energy use has been steadily and steeply rising.
The LSU AgCenter is unique among the 11 institutions in the LSU System in that it receives the greatest percentage of its budget, about 63 percent, from state funds. In comparison, for example, the LSU A&M campus receives only about 34 percent of its budget from state funds.
Unlike most of the other campuses in the system, however, the LSU AgCenter does not have students and does not benefit from tuition increases and student fees.
"This is probably the biggest misconception people have about us," Richardson said. "Although some of our research and extension faculty have joint appointments in LSU departments, we do not receive any funds from student tuition."
Over the past year and a half, Richardson has been closely examining all aspects of the LSU AgCenter’s extension and research programs with full involvement of faculty and staff. He is now in the midst of meeting with employees in each unit for their feedback.
The LSU AgCenter is headquartered on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge with research and extension faculty sharing joint appointments in 13 academic departments.
But most of its employees are off campus at extension offices in every parish and at 20 research stations, which are located across the state to match agricultural conditions. For example, the Rice Research Station is in Crowley in the midst of the rice and crawfish farming part of the state.
The mission of these employees is to help develop Louisiana’s agricultural and related industries, to enhance the environment and to improve the quality of life through 4-H youth development, family and community programs.
The recent hurricanes destroyed four LSU AgCenter extension offices – in Cameron, Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes – and its research station in Port Sulphur. In addition, there was damage to facilities in all the parishes affected by the storms.
The LSU AgCenter has been heavily involved in the state’s disaster recovery effort with employees working full time to aid individuals, communities and the various agricultural industries, including the fishing industry, affected by the storms.
LSU Board of Supervisors Member Laura Leach from Lake Charles commended the chancellor for all the assistance provided in her part of the state, where more than 10,000 head of cattle were lost and the soil in pastures and farm fields has been contaminated with salt.
"There would not be a viable agricultural industry in this state were it not for the research and extension programs of the LSU AgCenter," Richardson said. "We conduct the research on the practices that will yield results, and we teach the producers how to implement these practices."
The LSU AgCenter is nationally recognized for its achievements in intellectual property, patents, licensing agreements, grants and contracts and has been cited by a consultant to the LSU System as the "crown jewel" in the system for the technology transfer process.
The LSU AgCenter also is noted for its 4-H program, which reaches more than 100,000 young people each year with programs on character education and life skills.
"Our goal is to build on our strengths and focus on the programs of most benefit to Louisiana," Richardson said. "As we go through the process of examining our programs, we want to ensure that they are high quality and relevant."
Bill Richardson at (225) 578-4161 or email@example.com
Frankie Gould at (225) 578-5679 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Linda Foster Benedict at (225) 578-2937 or email@example.com