LSU: We are tops in books, too

Published 11:15 pm Sunday, January 6, 2008

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana State University is getting a lot of attention thanks to Monday night’s football championship game.

But the 148-year-old Baton Rouge institution is beefing up its academic side, too, and it is using the Internet, broadcast media and the program for the championship game to tout its construction projects, its aggressive hiring and its growth as a research institution.

‘‘We are what’s called a Tier 1 Research Institution,’’ Chancellor Sean O’Keefe said. ‘‘That’s the highest level there is. We’re among the big-time universities in the United States.’’

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One way to measure a university’s research strength is in the amount of grants its researchers receive. In the three years since O’Keefe took office, that sum has risen by more than 60 percent, from $90 million a year to about $150 million annually, he said.

Besides relying on federal grants, LSU is working with corporations. For instance, O’Keefe said, Shell Oil Co. has given the university about $4 million for research into coastal restoration, an issue that has achieved paramount importance since Hurricane Katrina swept through.

‘‘The issues now are the same as they were three years ago,’’ O’Keefe, 53, said. ‘‘But now the attention to this has gained this kind of support and enthusiasm from more than the usual public sources. That speaks volumes.’’

LSU is hiring about 75 faculty members to augment the 1,290 on staff, he said.

In the past decade, enrollment peaked in the fall semester of 2002 with 31,582 students. Enrollment has dipped by slightly more than 4 percent, from 29,317 in 2006 to 28,019 last semester.

But at the same time, admission standards have been toughened, with an eye to selecting students likely to graduate, instead of admitting hordes of freshmen and seeing most of them flunk out.

Prospective students must have an overall B average in high school and an above-average score on standardized tests. They must rank in the top 10 percent of their classes and complete what O’Keefe calls a core curriculum that includes mathematics, science and social studies.

Consequently, he said, getting accepted has become the hard part.

Instead of complaints from parents of high-schoolers who might not get in, O’Keefe said the tougher standards have motivated teenagers to do better.

‘‘We’re competing for the best and the brightest, not just in the state of Louisiana but across the country,’’ said Rod West, former chairman of LSU’s Board of Supervisors.

What is driving this quest for excellence is the campaign to convert LSU into what its leaders call a flagship school. Reaching this status involves meeting goals such as more research pegged to economic development; more and better students and programs at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels; and increasing the number of sources of money.

The flagship agenda was established in 2003, and the goal is scheduled to be accomplished in 2010, when LSU will mark its 150th anniversary.

That’s the same year the university hopes to reach the $750 million goal of ‘‘Forever LSU,’’ a fundraising campaign it launched in 2006.

‘‘We’re a little shy of $400 million now,’’ O’Keefe said last week.

Two projects to be built with money from this campaign are a home for the E.J. Ourso College of Business, which is sharing a building with the College of Engineering, and a new headquarters for the band.

The new business building is expected to cost about $63 million, O’Keefe said.

A new band hall would cost about $10 million, with half coming from the state and the rest from band backers, who have an Aug. 30 deadline.

The building would replace a structure that has become increasingly cramped since its opening 50 years ago because the band size has swollen from 144 to 325.

But that would only represent Phase I, LSU spokeswoman Kristine Calongne said. Another $5 million would be required to build what she called ‘‘a true home for the Golden Band.’’


Information from: The Times-Picayune,