SUNO-UNO Merger Bill Dies; Tucker Says He Doesn’t Have The Votes (UPDATED)

A merger of Southern University’s New Orleans campus and the University of New Orleans, the signature piece of legislation backed by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in the current session, died today in the House of Representatives. The bill, HB 537, is being replaced by a watered-down version which accomplishes little along the lines of reforming or streamlining higher education in Louisiana.

House Speaker Jim Tucker (R-Algiers), who authored the bill, decided he simply didn’t have the 70 votes needed for passage in the House. The Senate was a far tougher hill to climb, as 26 votes necessary for a constitutional amendment to pass in that body were simply not present.

Tucker will instead alter his bill to move UNO out of the LSU system and into the University of Louisiana system, an action many UNO alumni and supporters have angled for, and craft a cooperative endeavor of some kind between SUNO and UNO to partner with Delgado Community College.

Rep. Patricia Smith (D-Baton Rouge), a prominent opponent of the SUNO-UNO merger idea, was ecstatic in her reactions to the defeat of the bill, as quoted by the Baton Rouge Advocate

“We are very pleased,” said Black Caucus chairwoman and state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, while announcing the deal. “We are committed to working with him (Tucker) very closely on working on these cooperative endeavor agreements.”

Tucker wasn’t so pleased.

“It’s a sad day that we couldn’t do more for higher education in New Orleans,” Tucker said. “I firmly believe that for New Orleans a combined institution was a better choice.”

SUNO, of course, is not out of the woods. Higher admission standards mandated for all of the state’s 14 four-year campuses in the next year will greatly threaten its enrollment and funding, and outright closure could well be on the table by 2013 or 2014, when the state legislature is expected to be far more conservative than it is now.

For now, though, SUNO, the Louisiana Democrat Party and the Legislative Black Caucus have scored a sizable victory over Gov. Bobby Jindal and Tucker. What effect the death of the merger will have on the state’s electorate when most of the political figures involved will be facing the voters this fall is a different matter altogether.

UPDATE: From the WAFB-TV report on the collapse of the merger, a rather irritating quote…

“That’s the reason for suggesting the cooperative endeavor agreement. When you have cooperative endeavor agreements with the universities that are surrounding SUNO then they can work with the issues of the reform of trying to make sure graduation rates are improved,” said state Representative Pat Smith, D- Baton Rouge.

In other words, nothing substantial will be done to provide accountability to SUNO for its abysmal performance other than to pour in resources from UNO and Delgado in an attempt to lift that graduation rate. UNO’s six-year graduation rate is no prize either at 21 percent; spreading those resources to SUNO is less than encouraging.

Anything that improves SUNO’s graduation rates is a good thing. But at this point isn’t it long past time to prioritize the state’s tax dollars in the most intelligent manner possible? And even if a cooperative endeavor doubles SUNO’s graduation rate to 16 percent, isn’t that still simply unacceptable when Louisiana’s roster of four-year campuses is universally considered to be too large?

This issue won’t be going away despite Smith’s victory today.



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