By Dayne Sherman
It goes without saying that higher education in Louisiana is still under serious threat.
For example, TOPS is not fully funded, Southeastern Louisiana University was cut by another $1.4 million, the Louisiana Board of Regents funding formula still smacks of former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s political priorities, and the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors is little more than a circus act (Take one look at the scam search for Grambling University’s president this summer and you will see that an unqualified ex-legislator landed a plumb job. The ULS Board handed it to him like pulled pork on a plastic platter.).
In 2016, as in years past, Louisiana higher ed is about who you know and not what you know.
But let’s name names, which is a way to put a human face on what is at risk.
Dr. James D. Kirylo, a frequent guest columnist, has left his tenured professorship at SLU. Not one to toot his own bugle, Kirylo, I believe, was the greatest scholar-teacher to ever work in the College of Education at SLU and one of the finest scholars in the University’s 91-year history.
Yet he departed for the University of South Carolina after living almost 30 years in Louisiana. At USC, he is now a tenured associate professor of education and will teach doctoral students.
What many local people do not know about Kirylo is that he is an internationally known expert on K-12 and higher education. He has taught and lectured in many countries, authored five books while at SLU since 2003, and he has multiple book contracts for the future publications. He won the President’s Award for Excellence in Research and was Faculty Senate President for three years in a row.
These accolades are nice. However, he was also Louisiana State Elementary Teacher of the Year before becoming a professor. He is not only a scholar but also a veteran public and parochial school teacher. He had plenty of skin in the game and direct knowledge of teaching.
Kirylo’s latest book is titled Teaching with Purpose: An Inquiry into the Who, Why, and How We Teach (Rowan and Littlefield, 2016). I believe Teaching with Purpose should be required reading for every school board member, principal, education professor, education bureaucrat, and teacher in America. The book is that important.
Few people fought Jindal and State Education Superintendent John White any harder than the professor. Even at a local level, Kirylo refused to see his sons be used as high stakes testing Guinea pigs.
After presenting his objections to mindless testing at a Tangipahoa Parish School Board meeting, he was roundly attacked by board member Brett K. Duncan in the news and on social media. Duncan, a divorce lawyer with no legitimate expertise in education, exercised his own public shame by growling against Kirylo’s decision to pull his sons out of the testing regiment. Indeed, readers knew who the real scholar-teacher was and who else was nothing of the sort.
Kirylo was a stalwart Hammond community member, a diehard Saints fan, and a devout Catholic. Along with his wonderful wife Anette, they will leave a huge leadership void in the region. Their boys, likewise, will be missed.
So why did he leave?
Perhaps the absence of a permanent merit raise at SLU since 2008 and no raise in sight had something to do with it. Maybe it was a lack of support for faculty by higher education leaders. Certainly, no attempt was made by SLU’s top administrators to keep him here or even thank him for his many years of service.
Moreover, it’s possible that he got tired of swimming upstream and decided to take an opportunity when offered—one with better pay, better working conditions, more prestige, greater research opportunities, and solid support for faculty at USC.
Louisiana higher education makes one step forward and three steps back. Losing James Kirylo is a great loss for the students of Southeastern Louisiana University, for the Hammond community, and for Louisiana higher education as a whole. He will not be replaced. Professors of his stature have choices, and they aren’t coming to Louisiana.
Dayne Sherman, Writer & Speaker
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