-- Opinion --
The headline in the morning paper summed it up well: "LSU fires Ryan as UNO chancellor." Tim Ryan was sacked by the good ol' boys of the LSU System because he refused, as he put it, to play the game with LSU staff.
In a follow-up interview with Gambit, Ryan said his departure had its roots in the days after Hurricane Katrina, when certain people at LSU wanted to use the storm as an excuse to clip UNO's wings — or even shut it down.
"I was told specifically to fire most of our faculty and staff by [LSU System attorney] Ray Lamonica, using force majeure as the excuse to void their contracts," Ryan said. "I said it would destroy the university for decades. I told Mr. Lamonica that we could get federal funds to stay open. His response was, 'If you think you're going to get federal funds, you're just stupid.'
"I think that was the first step in the process that led to today."
Ryan adds that Lamonica "actively tried to do things to make sure that he was right. He tried to keep us from getting federal funds." The deposed chancellor concluded by saying, "In the LSU system, you can't buck Ray Lamonica."
Ryan's story rings true for several reasons. What happened to UNO after Katrina reflected a larger pattern by some — not nearly all — in the Baton Rouge area to "pilfer" the best parts of New Orleans after the storm. There was open talk — even an official movement called "10/12" (denoting the I-10 and I-12 corridors around New Orleans) — of moving everything worth saving out of the city. The LSU Medical School in New Orleans was part of the equation. Thankfully, those ideas went nowhere. But in that context, Ryan's claims resonate.
LSU officials deny forcing Ryan out. They say Ryan offered to resign and his resignation was accepted "in a reasoned, well-thought-out manner," according to LSU spokesman Charles Zewe. Technically, Ryan did offer to resign, but it was couched in a recent letter in which he laid out requests for help from LSU officials. He says he was effectively forced to resign.
I believe the former chancellor's version of events, but I must disclose that I'm a UNO alum. I was a student there when UNO, under founding Chancellor Homer Hitt, had to fight almost daily to establish and maintain itself as a university — and not the proverbial redheaded stepchild of LSU. What happened to Ryan is merely the latest chapter in an old, ongoing story of LSU's arrogance and heavy-handedness.
This much is certain: Ryan was proven right. UNO got federal funds and made it through the year. In fact, it was one of the few local institutions that did not shut down completely after the storm.
I've written before of LSU's official arrogance — specifically, how LSU overplayed its hand in dealing with Tulane, local residents, lawmakers and others regarding the new medical complex in Mid-City. Gov. Bobby Jindal, to his credit, stepped in several times to trim LSU's sails — and those of System President John Lombardi, who has installed himself as the new interim chancellor of UNO.
Talk about heavy-handed.
Lombardi met with UNO students last Friday; we'll see if he can calm things down. If UNO's fortunes don't improve soon, Jindal should step in — again — to remind LSU who's in charge.
No doubt some at LSU are laughing up their sleeves right now. But, come next spring, when lawmakers return to Baton Rouge to discuss severe cuts to higher education, those same LSU mullahs might notice that the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate are both UNO grads.
Payback is a bitch.