In Louisiana, $113 Million in College Donations Unused

The Louisiana Board of Regents has found that $113.1 million available to fund endowed chairs and professorships in the state’s higher education system has been sitting idle for at least two years. A study conducted by the Regents shows that the money could represent 76 endowed chairs valued at least $1 million each, and 263 endowed professorships valued at a minimum of $10,000 each.

According to the study, 60% of the unused money, about $67.86 million, came in private donations and the rest, $45.14 million, came from a state fund established with proceeds from an offshore oil production lawsuit, writes Mike Hasten of Shreveport Times.

The Regents study shows that the University of Louisiana System has received funding for 75 endowed chairs, and 31 are currently empty. Grambling State University has filled its two chairs and Louisiana Tech has four of its 13 chairs empty. UL-Monroe has filled six of its seven chairs and UL-Lafayette has 12 of its 22 chairs empty.

Northwestern State University has filled two of its three chairs and Southeastern Louisiana University filled one of its two chairs.

The study found that 101 endowed chairs at public and private universities across the state are empty. That’s one-third of the ones that have been created and 76 of the 101 have been vacant for more than two years.

The Board of Regents was surprised at the findings of the survey, said Kerry Davidson, deputy commissioner of higher education for sponsored programs. The reasons for not filling the positions vary from campus to campus, and “we don’t have a complete answer,” according to Davidson.

The Regents have created new rules, including that if a campus has more than 20% of its endowments unfilled for two years or more, it cannot qualify for a new chair or professorship. The new rules take into consideration the wishes of donors in determining whether campuses are being diligent in filling vacancies, Davidson said.

Most endowed chairs and professorships are funded by corporations to advance research, by families who want to honor deceased relatives or by individuals to honor well-known community residents. The donors contribute 60% of the cost of establishing an endowment, and the Board of Regents contributes proceeds from the Louisiana Education Quality Support Fund, when available, to pay the remaining 40%.

University officials said that attracting nationally recognized professors to fill chairs is not that easy. Robert McKinney, University of Louisiana at Lafayette director of the Office of Academic Planning and Faculty Development, said universities sometimes run into problems filling high-cost endowed chairs because of Board of Regents guidelines.

The restrictions require national searches, and the professors selected must have national recognition and ranking in their fields. Also, a full professor position must be available on campus, either by creating a new position or waiting until an existing professor retires. Those and other complications can get in the way, McKinney said.

Also, sometimes it is hard to get academics to come to Louisiana.

“With no faculty merit increases, our salaries are not at the national average,” McKinney said. “We’ve had searches for chairs and identified some great candidates” but haven’t been able to finalize the deals because Louisiana salaries can’t compete.

The University of Louisiana is meeting with deans to develop a strategy for filling positions. Among the ideas are taking a survey to determine which faculty members are nearing retirement eligibility and determining the national rankings of its professors, according to McKinney.

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