Government & Politics
 

LSU Board of Supervisors awards $1.3 million through little-known scholarship program

The 16 board members of the Louisiana State University System — all but one appointed by the governor — don’t get paid during their six-year terms.

But along with access to choice tickets at LSU football games, each board member receives a perk that has long existed in the shadows: the ability to award up to 20 scholarships a year for students to study at LSU.

Last year those scholarships cost the state $1.3 million in foregone tuition, according to figures recently posted on the board’s website. Several supervisors awarded more than $100,000 worth of scholarships apiece.

The board scholarships are now in the sunlight thanks to a bill approved unanimously by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Bobby Jindal. It requires the board’s website to identify the scholarship recipients for each supervisor.

“I think people behave a little bit better in the light of day than when they don’t think anyone is looking,” said state Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, who sponsored the measure.

The law also requires the Southern University System to post the same information for scholarships awarded by its board, although Southern has yet to do so. Those are the only two state university systems with such scholarships.

Claitor said his bill was inspired by a different program that allows each state Senate and House member to award a one-year scholarship every year to Tulane University. Those recipients were made public after The Times-Picayune reported in 1995 that lawmakers had awarded scholarships to children of political insiders, other elected officials and even their own kids.

“The Tulane scholarships are public,” Claitor said. “I thought the LSU ones should be the same. I’ve had political acquaintances make the pitch for their kids” for Tulane scholarships. “I didn’t think that the LSU board would be in much of a different situation.”

Scholarship recipients must maintain at least a 2.3 grade point average. Not eligible are members of their own immediate family or state legislators, statewide elected officials and members of Congress “unless financial need is clearly demonstrated.”

Information on the scholarships is posted on the board’s website, as well as LSU’s. But LSU officials told The Lens that no uniform policy exists for advertising them or selecting recipients. John Woodard, the current student member on the board, said he was unaware of the scholarship program before he joined last month.

The student member is elected by the student-body presidents of the seven LSU schools. The other 15 are appointed by the governor, who typically rewards friends or big political donors.

Board members sit in the 50-yard-line University Suite in seats they must purchase, and they get to travel with the team for one away game per year, said Robert Rasmussen, the assistant vice president for university relations. They also can buy 10 other football season tickets, four basketball season tickets and four baseball season tickets, said Herb Vincent, the associate vice chancellor for communications.

The information posted by LSU’s board shows that the value of the scholarships ranged for the 2012-13 academic year:

  • $5,876 to study at the law school, the medical school or one of the other professional graduate schools

  • $5,184 for undergraduates to study at the main Baton Rouge campus

  • $15,268 for undergraduates from out-of-state

  • $3,882 for undergraduates to study at LSU’s Shreveport campus

  • $3,734 for undergraduates to study at LSU’s Alexandria campus

Officials with the law and medical schools said that the scholarship covers only about 30 percent of tuition. The scholarship covers the entire tuition for undergraduates at LSU’s main campus in Baton Rouge, said Jason Droddy, director of external affairs.

The posted information shows that the supervisors, including former Interim President William Jenkins, awarded 190 scholarships in all:

  • 100 at the professional graduate schools

  • 55 for undergraduates at the main campus in Baton Rouge

  • 28 for undergraduates from outside Louisiana

  • 5 for undergraduates at the Shreveport campus

  • 1 for an undergraduate at the Alexandria campus

  • 1 for a non-Louisiana graduate student

Most of those who receive the scholarships are graduate students because most undergraduates at LSU qualify for a TOPS scholarship. It wasn’t that way before TOPS began in the early 1990s, however. The scholarships date from the 1960s, if not earlier, said Rasmussen.

Board members John George, a Shreveport doctor, and Stanley Jacobs, a New Orleans attorney, each awarded 19 scholarships apiece, the most.

Three board members each awarded five scholarships, the fewest: Lee Mallett, a businessman from the town of Iowa; Rolfe McCollister, who owns the Baton Rouge Business Report; and Stephen Perry, the president and chief executive officer of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“I use the scholarships very judiciously as you can see,” Perry wrote in an email. “I normally get a couple of recommendations from the system office, but otherwise review and read letters from individuals who have a special circumstance or a financial issue.

“This year I will focus on minority students in the NOLA region who have a financial need. But I do not just give them out, because they do impact the university financially. I try to help those who need it for some reason.”

McCollister, George, Ann Duplessis, Bobby Yarborough and Blake Chatelain did not respond to emails seeking comment. Hank Danos, the board chairman, said he would not be available to comment until Monday.

Sen. Claitor’s district bisects Baton Rouge, and he attended LSU as an undergraduate. He said he did not receive a board scholarship. He said he was unaware until years later that the program existed.

This story was updated after publication to clarify who elects the student member of the LSU board.

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  • K Lee Lerner

    Well done! Factual and insightful journalism.