College Board Merger Legislation Scrapped in Louisiana House

BATON ROUGE La. – House Speaker Jim Tucker scrapped his push to merge the governing boards for four-year public colleges Wednesday after facing significant opposition from lawmakers and higher education leaders.

Instead, Tucker is proposing to strengthen the authority of the Board of Regents as the policymaking board for all public higher education in Louisiana.

The House Education Committee approved the revamped proposal Wednesday without objection, sending it to the full House for debate. It’s similar to Senate-backed legislation already advancing in the House, but Tucker’s bill goes a bit farther by putting the language in the Louisiana Constitution, rather than simply in law.

“I’ve had long conversations with many of you since our last meeting and heard loud and clear the desire not to consolidate the boards,” Tucker told the House committee.

Tucker suffered an embarrassing defeat earlier this session when his bid to merge the boards failed to even get out of the Education Committee despite the support of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

The consolidation proposal would have done away with the Board of Regents and the separate governing boards that oversee the LSU System, the University of Louisiana System and the Southern University System. The Southern University System is the only historically Black university system in the U.S. The consolidation proposal would have replaced the separate boards with one board.

Higher education leaders argued the merger would not improve the performance of schools and could distract from other attempts to make those improvements. Tucker disagreed, arguing it would cut down on turf battles that lead to mediocrity.

But on Wednesday, Tucker argued that his new bill to redefine the authority of the Board of Regents would reach the same goal he’s always sought: accountability, where one entity oversees the policies that govern colleges and universities in Louisiana.

The bill “gives Regents the ability to set policy and make sure it’s implemented. Right now, we don’t have that direct link,” he said. Later, he added, “There are times when there are differences of opinion, and someone needs to be held accountable.”

The Jindal administration supported Tucker’s restructured bill.

The issue comes as lawmakers are pushing for better performance by colleges and universities around the state, arguing they have done little to boost graduation rates and improve their efforts in getting students into jobs. With the campuses rocked by several rounds of budget cuts, lawmakers are pushing for changes to the schools and a realignment of their missions.

Tucker’s bill would add language to the constitution that gives Regents the authority “to adopt any policy that it deems necessary or appropriate to govern postsecondary education in the state” and would make the management boards of the university systems “subject to policies adopted by the Board of Regents.”

“It’s a simple change, but it’s a huge change, and I think that stops the finger-pointing,” Nevers said in a Tuesday hearing of the House Education Committee.

Nevers said, if the clarification of the Regents’ role does not lead to improved performance by schools, he’d be back next year with a board merger proposal like Tucker originally proposed.