In something of a surprise, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour unveiled his budget recommendations that include merging its three historically Black universities.
Among Mississippi’s eight public universities, Barbour said Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State should be merged with Jackson State. The Mississippi University for Women would become part of Mississippi State University, according to the Barbour proposal. None of the universities’ campuses would be closed, Barbour noted.
Barbour said Jackson State would benefit from his consolidation proposal, but JSU President Ronald Mason has expressed opposition to the plan.
“The governor’s proposed budget cuts will change the face of higher education in Mississippi for decades,” Dr. Mason said in a statement. “While the full meaning of the proposal concerning the historically Black universities is unclear, what is clear is that Mississippi needs historically Black colleges because they are dedicated to serving the needs of the state’s most underserved.”
Barbour’s recommendations are catching flak from some lawmakers. Rep. Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs, chairman of the House Universities and College Committee, said merging universities would be harmful. The Legislative Black Caucus has vowed to oppose any merger proposals that involve the historically Black universities.
“While the state is clearly experiencing some of the most difficult times in our modern history, it is not the time to panic and undermine the very economic engine that can greatly enhance our ability to rise above the recession,” Buck said.
Senate Universities and Colleges Chairman Doug Davis, R-Hernando, told The Clarion-Ledger newspaper in Jackson, Mis s., he will listen to the consolidation discussions because he’s concerned about the future of all universities.
“We have to keep in mind the quality of education students receive at our universities,” Davis told The Clarion-Ledger. “If not consolidations, then what?”
This isn’t the first time there has been an effort to merge some of the state’s universities.
Previous efforts in the 1980s and 1990s failed because of pressure from outraged alumni groups. MUW, which is just 22 miles from Mississippi State, would be a prime case for merger, but it has a powerful alumni association that will put up a strong fight to stop a merger.
The governor has also recommended that Mississippi’s 152 K-12 school districts should be reduced to 100, which would mean some lower performing districts would be merged with other districts. Barbour said better performing districts would remain intact.
But the worst economic downturn since the Depression could provide the impetus for the Legislature to give serious consideration to Barbour’s proposal. State revenues have plummeted and Barbour has ordered cuts in agency spending.