Jindal Embraces Recommendation For SUNO-UNO Merger; Hearing This Morning

Today the Louisiana Board of Regents, the governing body for higher education in the state, will meet to discuss a set of recommendations  offered by the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems to rework New Orleans’ higher education offerings. But even in advance of the Regents’ meeting to decide their position on the question of whether UNO and SUNO should merge, Gov. Bobby Jindal has already laid his cards on the table.

“The Board of Regents released their study on the postsecondary educational needs of New Orleans today and I want to share part of the study with you that pretty much says all you need to know: ‘The institutions as currently operating are not meeting the needs of the students in the region,” Jindal said. “Further there is no evidence that the institutions, within their current governance and leadership, will improve their performance. The status quo is unacceptable; change is required.’”

The study offered two options. One would link UNO and SUNO, both of which would undergo substantial change, with Delgado Community College under a Greater New Orleans Higher Education Authority, which would assumedly be a sub-board within the University of Louisiana system. The other would merge UNO and SUNO into the University of Greater New Orleans, an institution which would have one unit dedicated to research and another dedicated to mass education.

Jindal opted to argue for the latter, pointing out that the new model already works for New Orleans’ private-sector university.

“I have taken a look at the two options for making this change, and I believe Alternative B is the better starting point as we work out details with higher education officials and stakeholders heading into the legislative session. Both options contemplate some kind of merger, but Alternative A creates another management board while essentially leaving the three institutions as they are today. Adding bureaucracy is no way to reform the status quo.

“Alternative B, however, consolidates New Orleans’ urban research university, UNO, and metropolitan university, SUNO, into one new school – the University of Greater New Orleans. It also establishes this new university within the University of Louisiana system. The University of Greater New Orleans and Delgado would share in a ‘university college’ – a central access point for applicants that would place them in the right education environment for their academic needs. The metropolitan university concept is not new to Louisiana. Indeed, Tulane has a similar model.’”

Jindal said the consultant’s study is just a “starting point,” and he’ll present a proposal to the Legislature for a merger in the legislative session beginning April 25. The opposition from the black community, which has been building since the issue surfaced in January, is expected to be stiff – which the consultant noted in the report presented yesterday, citing that unless some separation of missions is preserved the hard feelings from the loss of SUNO would cripple the institution for 15 years or more.

The Obama administration managed to stick its nose into the issue yesterday, following a tour of New Orleans and Baton Rouge by the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

“We’re very concerned about this issue,” said John Wilson, Jr., director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs.

Wilson didn’t take a position on the merger, but said if saving money is the object, there is no evidence that a merger would be the answer. Nor, he said, would a merger necessarily address the problem of SUNO’s low graduation rate of around 8 percent.

Meanwhile, two Republican state legislators offered support for the merger plan.

House Speaker Jim Tucker (R-Algiers) said, “This study says it loud and clear – to provide the education students in New Orleans deserve, the status quo is not an option. This report is a good place to start from and I look forward to working closely with the Governor and the Legislature to restructure New Orleans’ postsecondary educational options along the lines of the study’s Alternative B.”

And Senator Conrad Appel (R-Metairie) said, “The economic outlook for the New Orleans area is bleak without a fundamental rethinking of the structure of postsecondary education in the region. We plan to move forward with a bold new higher education system for New Orleans this legislative session.”

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