For Where Your Treasure Is…

By Kevin Shannahan/Opinion

Oceans of ink and acres of newsprint have been expended on the travails of LSU’s various sports teams. A recently fired LSU basketball coach was featured on a FBI wiretap expounding on a “strong ass offer” made to a recruit, presumably an offer more strong ass than the chance to earn a degree. Those sad distractions from what a university should be about were overseen by a chancellor earning well into 6 figures. While on a much smaller, and considerably more scandal free, level, the salaries of NSU’s coaches and administrators are quite comfortable.

Keeping Matthew 6:21 in mind let us turn our attention to something that actually matters, our state’s colleges and universities desultory performance in producing winners of Rhodes, Truman, Mitchell and Marshall scholarships. Well, producing might be too strong a word, given the paltry results. Since 2018, the last year I checked, a 2021 Rhodes Scholarship was won by a young woman from LSU. That was the sum total of major scholarships earned by students in our state’s colleges and universities. These scholarships are an internationally recognized standard of excellence and a life changing opportunity for those who earn them.

In the 2022 competition for Truman Scholarships, four Louisianans did earn places as finalists. That piece of good news was somewhat tempered by the fact that they attended MIT, Baylor, Stanford, and Columbia Universities. It is hard indeed to imagine an athletic program in any of our state’s institutions that would be allowed to accumulate such a lackluster record without immediate action being called for by an outraged public and concerned alumni.

To put this situation in a context familiar to SEC fans, universities in Alabama, to include our perennial football rival, the University of Alabama, have produced two Rhodes Scholars and one Marshall scholar since 2018. The Universities of Georgia and Arkansas have also produced one Rhodes Scholar each during that period.

LSU’s results may be inauspicious, but at least they are trying. According to the website for the Truman Scholarship, of the nine universities in the University of Louisiana System, only LA Tech has a faculty advisor to guide student applicants. While advisor contacts are not listed on the other scholarships sites, I have no reason to suspect that our state’s colleges and universities are doing any better there.

Dr. Marcus Jones, you are in your first year as president of Northwestern State University. Begin your tenure on a high note and fix this embarrassment posthaste. The Louisiana Scholars’ College is failing to fulfil the spirit of its charter as the state’s designated honors college. The newly named head of the LSC likewise needs to address the lack of advisors for these programs once he takes the reins. Dr. Henderson, after you congratulate Dr. Guice at LA Tech for having the only advisor for the Truman Scholarship among the nine institutions in the ULS system over which you preside, please make competing with the best students in the nation, or world in the case of the Rhodes, a priority for all nine institutions. The Southern University system is likewise not producing competitive applicants. As a former employee of one of our state’s HBCUs, I am particularly disturbed by this. Bringing opportunity to underserved people and helping them rise is part and parcel of what an HBCU is supposed to be about. Dr. Belton, please fix this. Governor Edwards, there are several spots reserved by statute on the Board of Trustees for the Truman Scholarship. One of them is for a sitting governor. Fill that vacancy!

Louisiana is not a wealthy state. Many of the students at our colleges and universities come from families of modest means. That does not make them second-rate. They are the equal of any group of young people anywhere in the world. Set standards and expectations along with help, guidance and belief in their potential and they will rise to meet those standards. I would like the reader to imagine a young person of modest means from a New Orleans housing project, a trailer park in central Louisiana or a small town in rural north Louisiana. He or she comes to college without much more than an idea that there is something better out there than what was around them growing up. It is not easy, but they work hard. Along the way, they see a future they could not have imagined a few years earlier. Their professors help them along the way. That young person will graduate and go on to Oxford University in England as a Rhodes Scholar. One of his or her friends will be going on to Ireland’s Trinity College as a Mitchell Scholar. Farfetched? I do not think so. Our state’s young people are up to the challenge. They need our leadership.