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Miss. Official: University Merger Dead Issue in 2011 Session

JACKSON, Miss. — Higher Education Commissioner Hank Bounds Jr. says he expects a proposal to merger or close some universities to have no support in the 2011 legislative session.

Bounds spoke Monday with the editorial board of The Clarion-Ledger.

“All you’ll hear is the sound of crickets chirping when ‘merger’ is brought up,” Bounds said.

Gov. Haley Barbour proposed a merger of some universities in 2010. Lawmakers did not act on it.

“At Valley, we’re going to have real difficulty in 2013 and beyond,” said Bounds, referring to Mississippi Valley State, one of the state’s three historically Black universities, which also include Alcorn State and Jackson State.

Valley is one of the institutions Barbour had included in a reorganization proposal that would merge the Itta Bena institution and Alcorn State into Jackson State, while combining Mississippi University for Women with Mississippi State University.

“The 400,000 or 500,000 African-Americans in the Delta need a place to go to school where they can get Black culture and feel comfortable. They have a right to a choice of having it in the Delta,” said Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood. “If they talk about closing or merging Ole Miss, then you can talk to me about merging Valley.’”

During a slowly recovering economy, financially strapped Valley will be the hardest hit in the coming years, Bounds said.

“It doesn’t have to be,” Jordan said. “She has always been underfunded. She has always been treated like a stepchild. I’m for the enhancement of schools, not merging them. The poorest people in the United States are in the Delta, and education is their way out.”

Bounds said with the reductions in state support and the pending loss of stimulus funds, all of the state’s universities are facing the prospect of tuition hikes and eliminating programs.

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