BATON ROUGE, La. – Lawmakers proposing the consolidation of the historically Black Southern University at New Orleans with the largely White campus of the University of New Orleans are recommending a merger more sweeping than the idea backed by state higher education leaders.
The measure by House Speaker Jim Tucker and Sen. Conrad Appel, both Republicans, would create a new University of Louisiana at New Orleans in the University of Louisiana System.
But while the Board of Regents, the state’s top higher education panel, backed a proposal that would keep the schools with separate academic officers and accreditations, the bill filed for consideration and supported by Gov. Bobby Jindal would require the merged campuses to seek one accreditation and one academic chief.
“This legislation creates a new path forward for improving the higher education system for all students in the greater New Orleans region,” Jindal said in a statement on Friday. “The current system is simply failing our students, and the new system proposed in Sen. Appel’s bill will provide our students with the opportunity they deserve to gain a great education and a rewarding career.”
The concept will be considered in the regular legislative session that begins April 25, over the opposition of Black lawmakers and SUNO leaders, alumni and students who have called the consolidation proposal racist and said it would diminish education opportunities for minority students.
It would require two-thirds support of the Legislature to pass, a high hurdle for a controversial proposal.
The new University of Louisiana at New Orleans would keep two separate colleges with different admissions criteria and program offerings. A branch campus of the nearby Delgado Community College would offer remedial courses and college transfer degree programs at the site.
While the schools would maintain separate missions, the bill by the two New Orleans-area lawmakers is clear that SUNO and UNO “shall cease to exist as separately accredited institutions and shall be consolidated, along with their assets, funds, obligations, liabilities, programs and functions.”
In the statement issued by Jindal, Regents Chairman Bob Levy said the bill “substantially follows the recommendation” made by the higher education board in March.
However, the scenario backed by Regents and recommended by the Colorado-based National Center for Higher Education Management Systems urged against a wholesale merger and joint accreditation, saying it could deny educational opportunities to thousands and could take 15 years or more to resolve the tensions that would erupt.
LSU System President John Lombardi, who currently oversees the UNO campus, said there is no such thing as separate campuses with one accreditation, and he said the two schools have such different student bodies and missions that a consolidation wouldn’t improve education.
“Merging them will not solve any of the problems that are articulated, so we don’t think merger is a useful activity,” Lombardi said.
The changes would take effect whenever the commission that accredits schools agrees to the governance change, a request that would have to be lodged by SUNO and UNO by July 1, 2012. Students currently enrolled at SUNO and UNO, who are in good standing at their colleges, would be allowed to continue their courses of study before they could be jettisoned in the merger.
An estimated 34,000 students attend UNO, SUNO and Delgado. The SUNO and UNO campuses are only blocks apart and graduation rates are far below the Southern average.