Tulane Scholarships Spark a Furor in New Orleans
New Orleans (AP) – June 9, 1993

Under a pair of 19th century laws, the New Orleans mayor and all state lawmakers can dispense Tulane University scholarships to practically anyone they want. And that was fine for most of the 20th century.

Until it was learned that the mayor's son had gotten one of the scholarships.

That has touched off a furor over perks and patronage in Louisiana.

Under pressure, the names of other recipients came out. They included children of Louisiana's two U.S. Senators and three congressmen; a city councilman who gave himself scholarships to graduate school when he was in the state House; the mayor's nephew; a mayoral aide; and the children of a former state senator, two judges, and a prominent criminal defense attorney.

Attorney General Richard Ieyoub issued an opinion Monday saying the scholarships were legal. And lawmakers said the state ethics commission was consulted in past years about such practices and found no conflict of interest.

But for the past week, the radio talk shows have been bombarded with callers expressing outrage. Many complained that they have had trouble obtaining money for their own children's tuition. A few said they probably would have done what the legislators and Mayor Sidney Barthelemy did.

Gov. Edwin Edwards has suggested ending the scholarship program. In exchange, Tulane would give up the approximately $1.5 million it gets in state fees annually. "And the temptation won't be there for anybody, and I think that the public will be better served and so will the Legislature," he said.

Tulane's president announced Friday that Barthelemy had agreed to consider competitive guidelines for the mayor's scholarships. And House Speaker John Alario said he would ask a House committee to develop guidelines.

Under the law, the mayor gives five full-tuition scholarships each year to Tulane, Louisiana's most expensive private university with an annual tuition of $17,250. Each of the 144 legislators also can give a one-year scholarship each year.

New Orleans got its share of scholarships in return for a tax break on a building bought by Tulane in 1880. The lawmakers got theirs after the Legislature in 1884 let Tulane drop out of the state university system and granted it a tax exemption now worth $500,000 a year.

Tulane must accept virtually anyone granted a mayoral scholarship. The school set minimum academic requirements for the legislative scholarships in 1986. Many legislators do look for needy students who are academically deserving. Others let Tulane choose the recipient.

Tulane President Eamon M. Kelly said he tried many times to make the scholarships competitive, but legislators resisted.

National scholarship search companies said they did not know of any other legislature with a similar perk.

Few people outside of government even knew aboout the scholarships or who got them until Sidney Barthelemy II listed his $69,000 scholarship on his high school graduation program. When the news broke, a surburban state representative filed a complaint with the state ethics commission.

Barthelemy, the city's second black mayor, said the uproar was at least partly racially motivated, since no complaint was filed against Rep. Jim Donelon, a white lawmaker who had given a scholarship to his daughter.

Donelon said he would end the practice. "Obviously, the press and the public consider that inappropriate," he said.

Copyright 1993, The Associated Press

From: Janet McConnaughey, "Tulane scholarships spark a furor in New Orleans," The Argus-Press, Owosso, Michigan, June 9, 1993, p. 20.  Reprinted in accordance with the "fair use" provision of Title 17 U.S.C. § 107 for a non-profit educational purpose.

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