The perilous state of public higher education is accepted as some kind of natural condition by many who have grown accustomed to the news of tuition hikes amid complaints from university officials that the economic model is broken. But this time the problems are far from exaggerated and the weakening support for public education by states with eyes on falling tax revenues and aging residents is taking its toll in tangible ways. Today we learn that LSU is planning cuts across the board to save $3m annually, and among the targets are the School of Library and Information Science, with the MLIS threatened with closure.. It’s difficult to imagine how the university foresees the closures of this program, along with some 20 others, including the Williams Center for Oral History, The Education Policy Research Center and the Office of Community Preservation in the College of Art & Design, can be worth the price. If a university can deliver such programs for $3m a year then they seem to have basic business planning down to a fine art (or else they have been starving the units for years, with one end in mind). I can’t speak for all those units but the SLIS program has 10 faculty, including an endowed professorship, a joint degree with Systems Science, and offers the only ALA-accredited degree in the state of Louisiana. It’s difficult to see how the loss of this program advances the university or the state at a time when the world is swimming in data and needs information professionals more than ever. Of course, the timing of this is doubly ironic when the Chronicle of Higher Education reports on a forthcoming longitudinal study across cultures which reveals book ownership and access at home as the strongest predictor of academic achievement in a person’s life. More on that study in a future post. For now, we need to recognize that public universities in this country are facing a squeeze in their resources that makes unit and program closures more likely. The savings that result may or may not be real (large complex organizations are by their very nature unpredictable), but the consequences will be, and it will take decades to recapture what may be lost. Once we slip down the self-support road, universities will be home to large business and engineering units which can usually sustain themselves with outside support from industry, but will offer only the humanities and social science programs at the margins. Education is not only a business, it’s a commitment to society, a contract between state and university to think, reason, and share insights for the greater good. That message is in very real danger of being drowned out, and with it, the very mission of public higher education in many states.