A total of 1,786 degrees were awarded during the UL Lafayette’s 161st Commencement ceremonies Friday at the Cajundome and Convention Center.
Planning is underway for the establishment of the Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Public Policy Center at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Blanco is a UL Lafayette alumna and the only woman to serve as Louisiana governor.
The policy center and archive will house Blanco’s gubernatorial papers. It also will contribute interdisciplinary, independent research to a host of public policy areas, including criminal justice reform, poverty and economic opportunity, governmental ethics, and education.
“Gov. Blanco championed these issues throughout her career,” said Dr. Jordan Kellman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, which will oversee the policy center in partnership with the University’s Edith Garland Dupré Library.
“The center will draw on expertise from UL Lafayette faculty and other scholars from across the country who will gather data and offer nonpartisan analysis to confront challenges facing our state and nation.”
The center will issue policy papers that inform public discussions, Kellman added. It also will host lectures and symposiums that address pressing topics.
Dr. Joseph Savoie, the University’s president, said the center will consider issues that touch every citizen of Louisiana.
“Researchers that the Blanco center will attract, and questions it will examine, will provide policymakers and the public with insightful information necessary to improve lives and communities across the state,” Savoie said.
In an interview last month, Blanco said the center would do more than gather information for academic purposes. “I see it also as a voice of balance, a voice of honesty so that the people can trust in the information delivered from the center. I envision it as the voice of reason.” [Find more from the interview by visiting the YouTube video on this page.]
Blanco graduated from the University in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in business education.
During her 25-year political career, she was elected twice to the state House of Representatives, twice to the Public Service Commission and twice as lieutenant governor.
Blanco served as the state’s chief executive from 2004 to 2008.
As governor, she fostered international economic ties, and led trade missions to Cuba, Taiwan, China and Japan.
She also directed the single-largest increase in education funding in Louisiana history. Blanco expanded the state’s pre-kindergarten program and fully funded colleges and universities for the first time in a quarter century.
Less than two years into her term, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck Louisiana.
The storms occurred in August and September 2005. At the time, they were the largest natural disasters in U.S. history.
Blanco’s gubernatorial papers include her direction of storm recovery efforts. The 90 boxes of material she donated to UL Lafayette will be transferred to the policy center and made available to researchers once University archivists process the collection.
Prior to 2015, state law permitted former governors to retain ownership of their papers, according to the Louisiana State Archives. Most chose not to make the materials publicly available.
However, Blanco hired an archivist who guided her office’s preservation efforts.
Blanco’s gubernatorial papers will attract historians, political scientists, other researchers and the public, Kellman said.
“Gov. Blanco has an exceptional sense of history. By directing her staff members to retain their records, she ensured that future generations would have an unparalleled vantage point from which to view an extraordinary period in Louisiana’s recent past,” he said
The center’s founding director is expected to be hired by the end of the year. There are plans to open the center in 2019 in Dupré Library.
Most of the funding for the $2.7 million center will come from private gifts.
The University will celebrate the center’s launch and honor Blanco’s career with two events on Sept. 21.
Issues central to her gubernatorial tenure, including higher education funding, criminal justice reform and improving social services, will be the focus of a panel discussion from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the LITE Center, 537 Cajundome Blvd. The event is free and open to the public.
Later that evening, a gala will be held at Le Pavillon in Parc Lafayette, 1913 Kaliste Saloom Road. Proceeds from the event will benefit the policy center.
To purchase a ticket, to make a gift to the center, or to find more information on upcoming events, visit blancocenter.louisiana.edu.
Photo caption: Kathleen Babineaux Blanco at her 2004 inauguration at the Louisiana State Capitol in Baton Rouge. (Photo by Philip Gould for La Louisiane magazine).