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|'Clausengate' defined Clausen|
Sally Clausen's decision to resign as Louisiana commissioner of higher education was surprising to some degree.
A surprise because it was anticipated in some corners that Clausen would ignore calls for her resignation in the wake of "Clausengate," dig in her heels and dare her bosses at the state Board of Regents to fire her. The board may very well have asked Clausen to step down, but we'll never know the truth unless a board member or Clausen comes clean. That most likely won't occur until pigs fly.
For those of you who may have been out of the country for a spell and are not aware of what has transpired with Clausen and the Board of Regents in the not-too-distant past, let's revisit the chain of events that led to the unraveling of Clausen's career in higher education.
Last year, Clausen "retired" as commissioner of higher ed. She spent one day as a "retiree" and collected some $90,000 in accumulated sick and leave time. The one-time payment was in addition to her $425,000 annual salary.
After spending one day in "retirement," Clausen was rehired to her $425,000 commissioner of higher education post, though she remained a "retiree" as far as the state was concerned. As part of the "retirement" deal, Clausen was in line to begin collecting a roughly $148,000 annual pension beginning Aug. 1 of this year.
All of the paperwork pertaining to Clausen's "retirement" and rehiring was handled by her staff. In other words, Clausen's subordinates covered it up for her, so to speak.
Along the way, not one person—including Clausen and/or her subordinates—bothered to inform the Board of Regents of Clausen's actions. Supposedly no one said a word to the board about it.
Clausen's handiwork would have never surfaced had it not been for the media. When news reports enlightened us about Clausengate, the Board of Regents played deaf and dumb, and for all practical purposes, plead the Fifth. In other words, the board said it was kept in the dark about Clausen's actions, though at least one board member pledged publicly that he supported Clausen in spite of her underhandedness.
Clausengate probably would have died down had it not been for the persistent reporting and commentary on the matter in newspapers across the state and on those dreaded "Blogs," which have emerged as a wholesale pain in the rear for public officials and the like—like Clausen. When long-time newspaper columnist Jim Beam of the American Press in Lake Charles blistered Clausen, one just knew the end for her was near. It's not often that Beam pointedly criticizes a politician, but when he does, you can take it to the bank that the politician in question has committed a grave error.
Yet, it was the politicians—members of the Legislature—who can take credit for forcing Clausen to resign, or for forcing the Board of Regents to demand that Clausen move on. Each time Clausen made an appearance at the Legislature during the current Regular Session—since Clausengate broke—she got an earful. It was the Legislature's way of signaling to the higher education community that Clausen's presence was beginning to affect how lawmakers felt about pending cuts in funding for higher ed. To surmise, Clausen evolved into a liability.
It seems a bit unfair, though, for Clausen to take all of the heat while her underlings escape unscathed. After all, shouldn't the individuals who were accessories in Clausengate resign, too? The answer to that question is a resounding "yes." If they refuse to step down, the Board of Regents should fire them, assuming the board possesses the backbone to do it.
The Board of Regents could stand a good cleansing as well. After all, if the board was unaware of what Clausen was up to, how can the board tell us with a straight face that it has a firm grip on overseeing all of higher education in Louisiana?
For as long as I can remember, Clausen has played a fairly significant role in higher education circles. It's a shame Clausen's career ended on a sour note, for her time in higher ed will forever be remembered for the chain of events that brought it to an end.