Louisiana voters won’t allow out-of-state residents to serve on university boards

Voters reject constitutional amendment on Saturday’s ballot

LSU Student Union
(Photo by Julie O'Donoghue)

Louisiana voters overwhelmingly rejected a state constitutional amendment to allow out-of-state residents to serve on public higher education boards Saturday (Dec. 5) that the Louisiana Legislature approved without a single lawmaker voting against it. 

State universities and colleges pushed for the measure, but a few days before the election, the Louisiana Republication Party executive committee came out in opposition to it. The amendment lost by a large margin with the public, with an estimated three out of every four voters rejecting it. 

Had it been approved, the amendment would have authorized two out of the 15 people on each of Louisiana’s four college and university boards to reside outside the state. The four boards include those that govern the LSU, Southern University, University of Louisiana and the state’s community and technical college systems.

The boards are currently made up of two members from each of Louisiana’s six congressional districts and three at-large members who are state residents. The amendment would have made two of the three at-large seats open to out-of-state residents. 

Supporters of the amendment said it was put forward to honor Lodwrick Cook, a prominent LSU donor who could not serve on the school’s Board of Supervisors because he was a California resident. Cook died in September

Higher education board seats are highly coveted. The governor selects the people who fill them contingent on state Senate confirmation. They frequently go to political allies and donors. Each appointee holds a six-year term and they are staggered — so that governors don’t get to flip too many seats during just one term in office. 

People pushing for the amendment said allowing out-of-state residents to be on higher education boards would expand the pool of candidates — and potentially the expertise that could be brought to university management. 

But the public was not convinced that people who aren’t taxpayers in Louisiana should have a major role in leading some of its largest and most important public entities. The amendment did not require that the people who take these out-of-state seats be graduates or have any other ties to the university they would be overseeing.  

Yet the GOP-controlled Louisiana Legislature was enthusiastic about the amendment weeks before the state Republican Party came out against it. Not a single lawmaker voted against putting it on the ballot during a special session held in October. Senate Education Committee Chairman Cleo Fields, D-Baton Rouge, sponsored the legislation. 

Just putting this constitutional amendment up for consideration cost the state money. No election at all would have been held in four Louisiana parishes if it weren’t on the ballot. It cost $376,000 to run the election in Sabine, Claiborne, Pointe Coupee and Red River parishes that otherwise wouldn’t have happened, according to the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana.