Scandal Fuels Public Cynicism
New Orleans, LA June 10, 1993
The amazing thing about the Tulane University scholarship scandal and politicians is that those who gave the tuition waivers to their own children or the relatives of other politicians don't think they did anything wrong.
New Orleans Mayor Sidney Barthelemy, who gave one of his five full scholarships to his son, defended it on the basis that he is a good family man.
Barthelemy also suggested he is being criticized because he is African-American. As an African-American, the mayor should know better than some others how many black families need help to send their children to college. They don't make $90,000 a year.
State Rep. James Donelon, R-Metairie, a lawyer who awarded a scholarship to his daughter for several years, said he considered the free tuition an entitlement of office.
Tell that to the poor student desperately searching for financial aid to go to college or to the middle-class family that goes into debt to pay college tuition.
The financial value of these scholarships makes the point more than any amount of outrage. Members of the state's congressional delegation were among the greediest.
U.S. Sen. Bennett Johnston, a Democrat, got scholarships for two children for four years each. With the tuition waivers valued at $17,250 for one year, the senator saved himself $138,000.
Besides Johnston, other members of the delegation who got scholarships for their children were U.S. Sen. John Breaux, D-La., and U.S. Rep. Jimmy Hayes, both Democrats, and U.S. Reps. Bob Livingston and Richard Baker, both Republicans.
It's ironic that so many highly regarded legislators and so many Republicans had to admit they gave scholarships to their own children or relatives of politicians.
To name a few, Sen. Hank Lauricella, D-Harahan, a veteran state legislator and real estate developer, gave his son a one-year scholarship 10 years ago. And Sen. Ken Hollis, R-Metairie, and five GOP House members gave scholarships to their relatives or those of other politicians.
This allowed Gov. Edwards to poke fun at those who look down their noses at him on ethical matters. He said the scholarships and the programs that give money to Tulane should be abolished.
If state legislators are guilty of ethical blind spots, so is Tulane. University officials have never set any standards for the scholarships, although they have talked about it in recent years.
The practice of allowing legislators to hand out a one-year tuition waiver each year and the mayor five full scholarships each year began in 1884. The program has continued over the years as a way to curry favor with legislators. In other circles, this would be considered a payoff. Though it is a private university, Tulane receives millions of dollars in state aid.
Although the Tulane scholarship system has been common knowledge in the Capitol for years, it has not been generally known that legislators were giving scholarships to their own children and to the children of other public officials.
An educator who has been a lobbyist for public educational institutions said, "For years, I've been trying to convince legislators not to give money to private institutions. I've always wondered why they were not interested. Now I know."
It took Mayor Barthelemy's award of one of his five scholarships to his son to pull the wraps off the system. Barthelemy didn't try to hide it. His award to his son was listed in the printed program for the Brother Martin High School graduation ceremonies.
The scholarship scandal has added fuel to public cynicism and disgust with politicians. Barthelemy can't run again in 1994, so he doesn't have to worry. But Councilman Johnny Jackson, who as a legislator gave himself a scholarship for a graduate degree, will hear about it if he runs for councilman at large in 1994.
Legislators are lucky they don't run again until 1995. But you can be sure potential opponents are saving the newspaper clippings on "Tulanegate."
The shocking thing is that so many of the state's leading elected officials used this system to their own advantage or to the advantage of friends. They include the mayor of New Orleans, five of the state's members of Congress and 13 legislators from the New Orleans area.
The only comfort we can get out of the revelations is that, so far as we know now, at least 30 New Orleans area legislators did not abuse the system. Some made a special effort to give their scholarships to qualified students who needed financial aid.
One thing that should come out of this is a re-examination of the money the Legislature gives to private schools, including Catholic schools and private universities.
These donations may have been justified when the state was rolling in money, but not in these hard times. The state can hardly afford to support its own public universities and colleges. If Tulanegate forces some changes, then it will have served a good purpose. But don't hold your breath until it happens.
Copyright 1993, The Times-Picayune Publishing Corp.
From: The Times-Picayune, June 10, 1993, p. B-7. Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.