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UNO is Not a University of No Opportunity

Written by  Casey Lefante

Editor's Note: In response to the suprising news of the firing of Chancellor Tim Ryan of the University of New Orleans by LSU System President John Lombardi, Casey Lefante, a proud of graduate of UNO, addresses Mr. Lombardi and his decision.

To Whom It May Concern:

My hope in writing this letter is that you will grant me the time and respect that was denied the University of
New Orleans community when John Lombardi relieved Chancellor Tim Ryan without warning or consulting the university’s faculty. And, to be clear, I am not writing this in an effort to put Ryan on a pedestal and pretend that he always knew what was best for The University of New Orleans.  I am not writing to question LSU’s significance to Louisiana or to suggest that LSU is not suffering from its own program and pay cuts, despite Lombardi’s own six-figure salary. And I am not, by any means, writing to judge LSU for feeding money into an athletic department that occasionally wins championships.

No. This is not why I am writing.

I am writing because of an acceptance letter I received in the spring of 2005 from the director of the Creative Writing Workshop at The University of New Orleans. Unlike Louisiana State University, UNO offered me a Dean’s Scholarship as well as assistantship opportunities. When telling a friend that I would be attending UNO for my Master’s degree, he laughed until he realized I was serious.

“The University of No Opportunity?” he asked. “You’re better than that.”

And this, precisely, is the problem. Those who, like the LSU Board of Supervisors, have not attended, worked for, or spent a significant time at the university do not understand the level of opportunity that exists within UNO’s inadequately funded campus. From an outsider looking in, UNO may not appear remarkable. It does not have the gargoyle-topped stone buildings of Tulane, the fancy library of Loyola, or the grand oak trees of LSU. What it does have, however, is a quality education led by professors who truly care about their students, who have received offers from larger universities in more developed cities and yet stay at UNO for the simple fact that they love it. That they belong to it. That they recognize the need for a public university in a city where education reform is not simply desired, but necessary. It is important to note that a good portion of New Orleans’s teachers (including UNO faculty) is comprised of UNO graduates. Alum of some universities mail checks; UNO alum, however, often remain in the city to serve the community. They, like myself, do not feel they are better than UNO, for they recognize the university’s worth.

In an interview on WWL’s web site, Lombardi stated that the university’s 50-year history and unique personality would not be lost in this restructuring plan. I hope this is the case, and I hope that it will remain a four-year university that offers quality education to a city where a greater value must be placed on higher learning. If LSU does, as some fear, cut duplicate programs and reduce UNO to a glorified community college, then this will be a great disservice to a rebuilding city. I ask this: how will a student at a New Orleans public high school afford to move to Baton Rouge to attend LSU if her major is not offered at an affordable local school? How might a single parent earn a graduate degree if he cannot pay for private education? How can a city without a public university thrive economically? 

If the answer to these questions is that UNO will simply return to its former name of LSUNO while remaining its own governing body and receiving adequate funding, then I am slightly more willing to put my faith in a board comprised of bank executives and attorneys. If, however, this is not the answer, then there is a serious problem with the plan for this university’s future. UNO is a university of opportunity. Please do not squander this opportunity to improve rather than dismantle an institution vital to the city of New Orleans.

Thank you,

Casey Lefante

UNO M.F.A. ‘08

UNO English Instructor 2008-2009


9/19: In the interest of fairness: here is the email I received from Lombardi's address this morning at around 6:30. I am curious to see what responses others may have received. 

Dear Professor Lefante,

While some may imagine that the LSU Board of Supervisors and the LSU system is focused on the LSU campus in Baton Rouge, in fact, each member of the Board represents a district of the state and brings the significance and strength of each university that is part of the LSU system to the Board.  UNO's rich history is at risk only be virtue of the funding crisis that affects all of higher education in Louisiana.  UNO's mission and presence in New Orleans provides a university opportunity to many people and it is the university of choice precisely because it has excellent faculty and programs.  We all need to focus on finding ways to continue the growth and expansion of UNO within the context of New Orleans, recognizing this university's important to the state and the significance of many of its programs to the nation.  Much has been done in UNO's 50 year history to build a significant institution, and we all have a commitment to try and expand and improve on this remarkable base of accomplishment.

Last modified on Tuesday, 21 September 2010
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