Commissioner of Higher Education resigns under fire

Former President of Southeastern Dr. Sally Clausen resigned effective July 1 from her post of Commissioner of Higher Education for the state of Louisiana.

The resignation faces sharp criticism because of timing, namely that colleges in Louisiana presently face a mind-boggling $300 million in budget cuts.

Clausen said in her June 8 retirement letter to the Board of Regents that she felt she had become a “constant distraction.” While not explicitly mentioning the incident, the distraction likely stemmed from her retirement and subsequent rehiring last August that caused some problems.

Retirement paperwork was filed late last July, and within days, Clausen was rehired. The retirement granted her payments for unused vacation and sick leave days, increasing her salary by $90,625 for 2010, according to a May 19 The Times Picayune article.

The whole situation highlighted the need for the Board of Regents to review the pertinent regulations and procedures, or lack thereof.

The Times-Picayune reported on April 28 that Commissioner Clausen was taking a substantial $226,000 pay-cut for the next fiscal year. The Lion’s Roar reported then that she was setting an example for higher education.

Clausen said the cut was intended to send a positive message at a time of staggering budget cuts, reported The Times-Picayune.

Few knew of Clausen’s decision to retire last year, including the Board, and writers at The Advocate expressed on June 10 that this further underscores the need for transparency in the selection of a new commissioner. This is in line with what Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office has asked for as well.

However, The Advocate further states that Jindal has “repeatedly opposed legislation that would open more of the operations of state government to public view.”

Politicians and news sources portrayed Clausen in many ways. Sen. Lydia Jackson, D-Shreveport, called Clausen a “distraction,” according to the News Star. However, Shreveport’s The Times reported on June 9 that Clausen was an important point person for the legislative budget wars.

“Dr. Clausen is a long-time friend and colleague, and I respect her decision,” said ULS President Randy Moffett. “She has devoted her career to improving education in this state and has always placed students first. She was the right leader at the right time at Southeastern Louisiana University.”

Clausen’s decision to resign has been known for some time, as she cited the possibility of having to help care for her grandchild in Houston, Texas, with special needs.