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BATON ROUGE, La.
About 500 college students and faculty from around Louisiana rallied Wednesday at the Louisiana Capitol against higher education budget cuts they say will cripple their campuses, directing much of their anger at Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Protesters said the governor is misleading Louisiana residents when he suggests the cuts aren't harmful and could come from administrative overhead and waste. An estimated $310 million in state funding has been stripped from higher education since cuts began two years ago, and more slashing is expected.
"We need a real plan, we need a real vision and we need a real leader," said Dadrius Lanus, 22, a political science and history major at Southern University. "Mr. Bobby Jindal, we are out here, and we are waiting for an answer."
Chants included, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, Bobby Jindal's got to go!" and "Where is Bobby?"
Students from at least a dozen college campuses, including Grambling State University in north Louisiana, the University of New Orleans and LSU-Alexandria, held signs saying, "Bobby Jindal Doesn't Care About Smart People," `'Don't Kill Higher Ed" and "Don't Defund Teachers, Dethrone Jindal" and wearing shirts touting slogans about saving their schools.
The mascot for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, a student dressed like a Cajun pepper named Cayenne, showed up on crutches and wearing bandages. One student carried a sign advocating the re-election of imprisoned former Gov. Edwin Edwards, while another student carried a fake milk carton bearing Bobby Jindal's face and listing him as "missing."
"If they cut us any more, they're going to cripple the college, and there just won't be any way to get anything done," said Shalyn Calongne, 29, a biology major at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux who was carrying a "Wrong Way" street sign.
Jindal was away from Baton Rouge during the protest, in north Louisiana for his "Building a Better Louisiana for Our Children" tour.
The governor adamantly opposes tax increases, but a battle is brewing for the 2011 regular legislative session as some lawmakers have said they'll push for at least temporary tax increases to stop large budget cuts to colleges.
In recent speeches and editorials, Jindal talked of a need to stop whining and "do more with less," saying colleges could deliver better results for students and higher education leaders should change their policies to be more efficient. He's said tuition and fee hikes on students have offset a large portion of the budget cuts so far.
College leaders say the cuts have damaged educational opportunities for students, forced the elimination of programs and courses and shrunk student services.
Protesters said Jindal is away from Louisiana too often and isn't showing leadership in planning for a $1.5 billion shortfall in the upcoming 2011-12 budget year that begins July 1. The governor has told campuses to prepare for state funding cuts of up to 35 percent, cuts that could range from $290 million to as much as $500 million.
"We're talking about budget cuts far beyond what could be squeezed out by what's being characterized as bloated bureaucracy," said Kent Mathewson, a geography professor at LSU carrying a sign that said "Cut Ignorance Not Funding. Defend LSU."
Southern University political science professor Albert Samuels said Jindal's support of deep tax cuts helped cause the state's budget shortfalls, "and he has the audacity to lecture us about leadership."
No lawmakers spoke at Wednesday's gathering, but Senate President Joel Chaisson and several legislative staffers watched on the steps. Students on the Capitol steps promised to continue their protests.
Despite online threats of rally disruptions, Wednesday's protest was peaceful, and the Louisiana State Police, which had several troopers on site, reported no problems.