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University taps economist as Blanco policy center's founding director

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has named Dr. Stephen R. Barnes founding director of the Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Public Policy Center.

Barnes directs LSU’s Economics and Policy Research Group, the state’s largest university-based economics research center. He will begin his new position at UL Lafayette in August.

Barnes said the Blanco Center “is poised to become a leading source of research on the most pressing challenges facing Louisiana.”

“It will work with researchers throughout the University, the state and beyond to inform and evaluate public policies that affect the lives of every person who calls Louisiana home. The results of these collaborations can make our state a model for change across a number of social challenges.”

He continued: “Governor Blanco’s efforts to establish a public policy center at UL Lafayette reflect her belief that an informed public is essential to our state's strength, today and in the future.”

Blanco is a UL Lafayette alumna and the only woman elected Louisiana governor. The University announced last year it would honor her pathbreaking 25-year career in public service with the policy center’s creation.

Barnes’ appointment as Blanco Center director, and as an associate professor of economics, is pending approval from the University of Louisiana System Board of Supervisors, said Dr. Jordan Kellman, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. The college oversees the center in partnership with Edith Garland Dupré Library.

“Dr. Barnes has collaborated with a number of federal and state agencies, industry partners and advocacy groups. He has worked with scholars in more than a dozen disciplines. His breadth and depth of knowledge and extensive experience guiding policy research will be invaluable to the Blanco Center’s development,” Kellman said.

“The University believes the Blanco Center can become Louisiana’s premier public policy resource. Dr. Barnes’ leadership will help ensure that.”

Barnes is a native of Baton Rouge. He completed an undergraduate degree in economics at LSU, and earned master’s and doctoral degrees, both in economics, from the University of Texas at Austin.

He joined LSU’s Department of Economics in 2009. He became the Economics and Policy Research Group’s associate director the following year, and its director in 2012.

During his tenure at LSU, Barnes helped secure more than $8 million in federal, state and industry grants to examine health care, coastal restoration, career and technical education, and economic development, among other topics.

Blanco said expertise in these issues and others “makes Dr. Barnes ideal to guide the public policy center as its founding director.”

“The center’s mission is to offer a dispassionate, independent voice—rooted in scholarly research—to a host of challenges,” including criminal justice reform, economic opportunity, government ethics and education.

“Dr. Barnes has shown an ability to navigate various disciplines and numerous policy areas. The Blanco Center’s interdisciplinary mission and multifaceted focus will benefit from the agility he possesses as a scholar and researcher,” the former governor added.

The center will issue policy papers that inform public discussions, and sponsor lectures and symposiums. In addition, it will house Blanco’s gubernatorial papers. The 90 boxes of material she donated to UL Lafayette include documents that pertain to economic development and higher education, among other issues she championed as governor.

The collection also chronicles her direction of recovery efforts after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the state in Aug. and Sept. 2005.

The papers will be available for research once University archivists process the materials.

A native of Coteau, Louisiana, Blanco graduated from the University of Southwestern Louisiana, now UL Lafayette, in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in business education. Her husband, Raymond, was a coach and longtime administrator at the University.

Kathleen Blanco served two terms each in the state House of Representatives, on the Public Service Commission, and as lieutenant governor. She was governor from 2004 to 2008.

Most of the funding for the $2.7 million Blanco Center will come from private gifts. More information is at

Photo caption: Dr. Stephen Barnes was named director of the Kathleen Babineaux Blanco Public Policy Center.

Photo credit: Doug Dugas | University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Note: This news story is a repost. Original news story.