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Heading Out West with Airport Screeners and LSU

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Thursday, February 19th, 2008
Salt Lake City, Utah


With spring approaching, I have been looking for a good week to head out west, visit several relatives including one of my daughters, and ski some Utah mountains. This is the week. Let me share a Louisiana perspective.

A 6:30 a.m. flight out of Baton Rouge found only a few travelers lining up for security checks at that early hour. But TSA (Transportation Security Administration) employees were in abundance. Now I don’t know about you, but I sure started feeling a whole lot safer as those security guards began taking shampoo away from two older ladies in front of me, and toothpaste away from some little kid about seven years old. Thank goodness, this competent federal agency has found a way to foil the terrorists.

You almost have to take a course to figure out all the new rules. Let’s see now, you can have up to 3 ounces of toothpaste, but it has to be packed in a clear, one-quart-size baggy. If your baggy is a two quarter, then you are just out of luck. And how about 2 ounces of perfume in a five-ounce bottle? Sorry. You broke the rules.

So here is a question I wish one of these screeners would answer. Why do little old ladies get the same search treatment as a young Arab? Let’s be candid here. It’s ridiculous to target everyone equally, because each person going through security at the airport is not posing the same potential threat. As Canadian columnist Rachel Marsden puts it: “Across-the-board rules make sense if the Golden girls were blowing up airplanes. Since they’re not, this kind of mindless “equality” is not just dumb. It’s dangerous.

Of course we should be profiling, politically correct or not. Smart security regulations play the odds. The Republican congressman Peter King summed it up pretty well when he said: “If the IRA had blown up Lower Manhattan, then people with Irish names and red hair and freckles should be stopped more than an African-American or an Italian-American.” It makes no sense frisking 80-year-old women and allowing others to walk through without being stopped. If you want to call it profiling or more intelligent screening, yes, it has to be done and it should be done.

As I walked onto the line, three different screeners, all within 20 feet of each other, asked to see my ticket. Since there are more screeners than passengers, I suppose it kept all the federal employees occupied. In fairness, those doing the searching were polite and just doing their job. But the higher ups have created a bloated bureaucracy and instituted arbitrary rules that are both burdensome and ineffective. So I worked my way through the line, took off my shoes and belt, took off my coat and sweater, emptied my pockets, disengaged my laptop from its case, then reassembled everything and moved on to find a cup of coffee before my flight.

Joining me on the flight was the new and controversial president of the LSU system, Dr. John Lombardi. He was on his way to Minneapolis to speak with representatives of the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association). He was traveling alone, and had no one there to whisk him away from me, and protect him from my ramblings and verbal onslaughts. So I took the time to unload on one of my LSU sore spots; the failure on the part of university officials to raise significant money for the college endowment.

LSU could well have the lowest endowment of any major college of its size in the country. As much as 15 percent of the total amounts spent by major universities to cover costs can often come from its endowment. Income is built up over a number of years by actively encouraging alumni to make regular contributions to a university fund. Successful college endowments grow through investments and are a significant income source for any major university in the country. Not so at LSU.

As you would expect, the nation’s top-rated universities also have the highest endowments. Harvard leads the country with an endowment approaching $26 billion.. That’s some 15 percent higher than last year. A number of state universities have endowments that are significantly above $1 billion. My alma mater, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has topped the $1.5 billion level gaining some 13 percent in one year on investments of new funds into the endowment.

How about the Southeast Conference? The University of Florida comes in strongly at almost $850 million with a 14 percent gain in the last year alone. The University of Alabama has an endowment approaching $800 million. The University of Tennessee system is now at $720 million. How about our backwards friends up in Arkansas to the north? $700 million endowment. The University of Kentucky? $580 million. The University of Georgia comes in at almost $520 million. Any number of smaller southern schools is above this level. So where’s LSU? Just topping the $500 million mark with only a 9.7 percent rise in income within the last year, one of the lowest percentage increases in the country.

Former LSU Board of Supervisors chairman Bernie Boudreaux urged the Legislature last year to give more funding to LSU. He stated flat out: “Our only sources of income are from tuition charged and funds the university receives from the Legislature.” How true, and how disappointing. A strong endowment should be a major “third source” of income for any university that aspires to be a flagship and make a significant difference in its self-funding effort. When it comes to developing the endowment potential, LSU has, simply put, been a failure. Rarely a week goes by when Louisiana papers are not filled with some exploit of a successful LSU graduate, both in the business world as well as the field of sports. Yet it is hard to point to any major effort encouraging these same individuals to be major benefactors to a university that gave them a foundation to be successful in the first place. What a missed opportunity.

National Rankings: A few months ago, US News and World Report published their annual guide to the nation’s top schools. One would assume that any college that aspires to be a flagship institution and a major university of higher learning would fight to make the nation’s top 100.

Tulane University in New Orleans came in at 43. A number of SEC schools are in the top 100. The University of Florida made it in at number 50,Georgia listed at number 58, and  both Auburn University and the University of Tennessee tied for 85th. The University of Alabama was listed at number 104, and number 109 was the University of South Carolina. No LSU mentioned anywhere on the list. You would have assumed that some member of the Board of Supervisors would have opened up the magazine, and raised a few questions. But nowhere was heard a discouraging word. To his credit, Dr. Lombardi listened attentively and readily admitted that the University had a lot of ground to make up. But he seems eager to begin revamping the process. I wished him well; he headed to Minneapolis, then on to Las Vegas. More to share next week.

“The anger that travelers feel toward airline security measures — like the
confiscation of G.I. Joe nail clippers and tweezers, or “random” searches
that seem to target mostly white-haired old women or whoever’s the first
person in line — is real. It could blossom into a political force.”

– Fox News

Peace and Justice.

Jim Brown

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