Willie Larkin: “Grambling is Fighting for Her Life; I Am Her Healer”

Grambling State University President Willie Larkin says that the university is “fighting for her life,” and that he has been charged as her primary healer.

In a 1,265-word letter penned to the Grambling community and posted to its website, Larkin says that years of budget cuts, administrative mismanagement and free-falling enrollment have placed the university in a perilous, but reversible, position. From the letter:

She, Grambling State University, has charged me, her president, her healer, with the duty and responsibility to heal her many wounds and bruises through many fights she has endured, through the ravages of time, and through the legacy that is aging her. As her president, her surgeon to carry this metaphor, I have looked deep into the bowels of her inner operations and have seen the cancers that must be removed, the healing that must occur, and the wounded legacy that must be mended.

Larkin, who was appointed as permanent president last July, specifically referenced the recent vote of no confidence from the Grambling Faculty Senate, which this week accused Larkin of a lack of communication and specificity on how the university would adjust to a proposed cut of $2.5 million from its operating budget, its discontinued undergraduate nursing program, and enrollment management issues.

And, let me say to the over 200 faculty and those faculty on the Faculty Senate that understand the delicacy of our plight, thank you for your support! Thank you! And, to those who expressed their lack of confidence in my ability to heal Grambling over these short seven months of my tenure, please allow me to turn the page, repair these wounds, and heal a wound with more than a Band-Aid as a solution.

Larkin did not provide details for how administration would respond to the challenges, but in other posted documents, revealed the university is developing a strategic plan and reinstated its national search for an athletic director, just days after suspending the search over budget concerns. He also provided details of the budget shortfalls he inherited seven months ago.

Quite literally, Grambling is confronting a time when its life support has been weakened through the 2016 mid-year budget cuts, totaling over $38,037,806, with $2,509,045 from our Grambling alone. Grambling is facing unprecedented financial times in higher education in the State of Louisiana and on her campus, our campus. Just as a point of clarification, when I took office as Grambling’s 9th Permanent President on July 1, 2015; the financial woes at the university were as follows: the structural deficit for the operating budget was $5,158,109.00. And, the Athletics Department’s budget had a whooping deficit of $5,746,321.00. So, this administration began its presidency having to dig out of a huge hole. Although a mammoth task, I am certain we can stay the course and return to financial respectability as a proud and thriving university. She, Grambling, has been struggling over the past eight repeated cuts to higher education from the state budget. The current budgetary crisis not only threatens the entire higher education system in Louisiana but on a more personal level, to our own Grambling State University. There is no Medicare or Medicaid for her. She pays out of pocket!

While he did not make an appeal for donations and gifts in his letter, Larkin also called for students and alumni to raise awareness for the university through social media appeals, direct recruiting for future students, and engagement with legislators and opponents of the university.

While many presidents nationally are experiencing the same or similar confrontations, I can only fight one major battle at a time — and my fight is to save Grambling! My fight is to battle all those who inflicted pains on her infrastructure while she opened her arms for the past 115 years. My fight is to battle all those systems that want to do her harm. And my fight is to battle all those who might want to stay the course that could become a cancer to her. She, Grambling State University, needs time to regain her strength, chart a new direction, and recover from thousands of knife cuts to her legacy. My fight is to save her life for generations to come!

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