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Friday, 18 March 2011 13:42
Is Jindal Pushing UNO-SUNO Merger To Get One Louisiana Ed Board
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Christopher TidmoreDespite emotional testimony from students and supporters of Southern University at New Orleans--and the recommendations of an expert study recommending against a merger--the Louisiana Board of Regents voted 9-6 on Tuesday, March 15th, to endorse a merger between Southern University at New Orleans and the University of New Orleans.

       It did so at the behest of Governor Bobby Jindal, much to the grumbling of some of the opposed members of the panel.  The fact is, merger opponents have nothing to worry about.  The Legislature will never enact this plan.   

       A simple counting of the votes in the House and Senate indicates that Jindal will lose this battle.   The Governor lacks the 2/3 majorities in both legislative chambers to make the UNO-SUNO union come about--thanks to solid opposition by the Legislative Black Caucus.

        What few media outlets have realized is thanks to the UNO-SUNO fight, Jindal may be able to accomplish what few Governors have even attempted--the merger of Louisiana’s multiple state boards that govern higher education into one powerful oversight body.

   Without the distraction of the SUNO/UNO fight, such a proposal would likely have been dead on arrival, even with the current budgetary climate.  

       Now, it could appear as a moderate alternative to ending a historically African-American University to the 1/3 of legislators in the Black Caucus.

      "It is really masterful how the Governor has mastered-minded this battle," explained Louisiana Republican Party Deputy Chairman Jay Batt. 

     He notes that every attempt to merge the several boards governing--and providing funding--for academic programs at State Colleges and Universities has failed over the last several decades.  By focusing attention on the UNO/SUNO fight, Jindal has been able to maneuver behind the scenes to bring about a complete merger of the LSU, UL, Southern, and Community College Systems, long a goal of collegiate reformers in Louisiana.  As such the Governor's efforts have gone relatively unnoticed by the media at large, giving him the potential of accomplishing his plans.

      "It is critical that we have one place to govern our college programs," Batt explained.  Louisiana has terrible duplication in academic programs.   At one point, the state had five architecture schools, producing more architects in multiple campuses than could ever be employed in Louisiana.

       The Pelican State has more four-year college campuses than Florida, a state with seven times Louisiana's population.  The multiplicity and ubiquity of collegiate grounds is not a problem, though, Batt outlined, if each concentrates on specific academic programs, a mechanical engineering school at one, commercial art at another, and so on. 

      Each school can play to its strengths, and the state higher ed budget can fully fund those specific degree programs at a nationally competitive rate.

      The problem is that up to now, each school has attempted to have as many of the same BA and graduate programs as possible, dividing an already paltry state higher ed budget.   The choice, in Batt's view, is to underfund multiple degree programs or for the single college board to write a budget that fully funds one BA program--or two--across the length of Louisiana.

    That approach is used in most other states' higher Ed budget.  Not in the Pelican State, leading to a substandard collegiate funding of individual programs that has severely undermined Louisiana universities' abilities to complete in national collegiate rankings and performance.  

       "It is ridiculous that in a state that has about the same population as the city of Houston to have as many SEPARATE universities as we do. That means none of them are funded well...and the programs end up working against one another," Batt explained.   "We need the coordination of a single university board," that can bring some logic and economic reality to the system as a whole.

        However, rural legislators, mostly Caucasians, have blocked a single system fearing loss of programs at small rural colleges like LSU Eunice or Northwestern.  Equally, African-American legislators, have cooperated with their rural colleagues in resisting a single board.  They have feared that the loss of the Southern Board would dilute the power of schools like Southern BR and SUNO, each of whom lay mere blocks from LSU and UNO respectively.

        Yet, when faced with the complete extinction of historically Black Colleges, like the SUNO/UNO merger would accomplish, the loss of a History or Art Curriculum may appear less of a perceived hit, if the overall college survives.  

      Black legislators, so the logic reportedly has been within the Jindal Administration, would be more likely to agree to the consolidation of a single university board, and the merger of programs at specific college campuses, over the loss of an historically African-American College altogether.

       That provides Jindal with the potential 2/3 majorities to over-come rural White opposition in the House and Senate, and bring about a merger of the Southern, UL, LSU, and Community College Boards into a single Board of Regents.

      Or at least, that is the perceived real reason that Jindal ignored the recent Colorado report, and pushed the Board of Regents to vote to merge UNO and SUNO.

       Without that vote, the governor would have no bargaining chips with Black Caucus members.

     Now, the Regents’ recommendation will go to the legislature. Gov. Bobby Jindal called the study recommending either a merger or reorganization of the two schools a “starting point” for a legislative proposal to be introduced this spring.

      SUNO supporters have warned that a merger would disenfranchise the population that university currently serves.  Moreover, as an historically-black college, SUNO gets access to federal funds for which other colleges cannot qualify.

     As such, Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr. complained that going through with a true merger would deprive the state of millions of dollars.  While a merger would mean those funds would go away, they would be quite safe under a single university board that still preserves African-American colleges in Louisiana..


Christopher Tidmore is on the radio weekdays from 7-8 AM on WSLA 1560 AM Slidell/New Orleans & KKAY 1590 AM White Castle/Baton Rouge, archived and streamed online at www.gtmorning.com


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