Nicholls State University could be forced to close temporarily this year even under the best-case budget scenario presented to the Louisiana Legislature under a plan submitted to the University of Louisiana System.
“Surely it won’t come to that, but that is the current plan presented,” University of Louisiana System President Dan Reneau said.
But state Sen. Norby Chabert, R-Houma, a Nicholls State graduate, said he won’t have it.
Chabert was furious when he learned from Gannett Louisiana Newspapers of the plan for Nicholls State, which is located in Thibodaux, to close for 14 days.
“This is the first I’ve heard of it and I think it’s unnecessary and a bad call,” Chabert said. “Are you telling me that the university in the fifth largest market in Louisiana that serves 6,300 students is going to close? This isn’t going to happen.”
Nicholls President Bruce T. Murphy issued a statement saying closure would be a last option.
“Nicholls submitted a financial planning document listing several options that the university is considering,” Murphy said in the statement. “One of those options includes temporarily closing the campus for several days. Obviously, that is the absolute last option that Nicholls would ever take. However, as the governor mentioned in his Thursday public address, temporary closure of universities throughout Louisiana is one of the many possible outcomes.”
Reneau said since the plans are crafted by the individual universities within the system, Nicholls can choose alternatives to closure.
“It’s a living document and a moving target,” Reneau said.
Chabert said he called Reneau and Murphy following his interview with Gannett.
“I told them in no uncertain terms this is unacceptable,” said Chabert, a member of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee that will help determine the scope of the midyear cuts. “It’s financially impossible for Nicholls to be in a worse financially position that Grambling (State University).
“I know for a fact that others in the system are in worse shape, and to say we’re the only one that has to close is either a gross misunderstanding or a scare tactic used by those trying to further a political agenda.”
Lawmakers are grappling with a midyear budget hole exceeding $900 million. Even under the best-case scenario, higher education is in line for an almost $70 million cut — $41 million plus another $28 million in TOPS. Reneau said Nicholls best-case scenario plan didn’t even include the TOPS scholarship cut. In fact, Nicholls is one of nine universities in the University of Louisiana System. The others are Grambling, Louisiana Tech University, McNeese State University, Northwestern State University, Southeastern Louisiana University, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the University of Louisiana at Monroe and the University of New Orleans.
Reneau said even though other campuses might not face temporary closures under the best-case scenario, all will suffer great harm from the midyear cut.
“We’ve already been sent a warning letter from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools about the risk of losing accreditation,” Reneau said. “I’ve seen many a thing in my 50 years in higher education in Louisiana, but I’ve never seen it this bad, and it’s real.
“This thing is really serious. The universities have already been crippled, but if some of these cuts come to pass, they could be crippled for the next 50 years.”