BATON ROUGE, La. — Gov. Bobby Jindal’s newest appointee to the Board of Regents won’t be attending a meeting to discuss the racially charged potential merger of Southern University at New Orleans and the University of New Orleans.
Dr. Albert Sam II, a Black vascular surgeon from Baton Rouge, was named to the Regents by Jindal after the governor pushed out a longtime White member of the board amid complaints about the lack of diversity on the panel.
Sam’s appointment came days before the Regents meet this week to hear a consultant’s recommendations about whether to merge SUNO and UNO. But Sam won’t be there for his first meeting as a board member, says Regents spokeswoman Meg Casper.
“He’s not going to be attending the special meeting next week. With his surgical schedule, he just can’t cancel all those folks,” she says.
The meeting will be among the most controversial decisions facing the Regents in years. The board will make a recommendation about whether to consolidate the two universities, a proposal which would require approval from state lawmakers.
A lawsuit challenging the merger has been filed against Jindal and the Regents. The consolidation discussion has prompted complaints from Black lawmakers, Southern staff and alumni and Democratic Party leaders.
The lawsuit, filed by a group of Southern University students, claims the Regents board is unconstitutional because its appointed members were all White.
The 16-member Regents board had one Black member, a student representative, in a state where one-third of residents are Black. All nine gubernatorial appointees named by Jindal had been White — until Sam’s appointment Wednesday.
A district judge refused to block the consolidation study while the lawsuit continues in the courts. A lawyer for the Southern students, former state Sen. Cleo Fields, is appealing the decision.
Jindal suggested the merger, saying it could improve educational possibilities for students. The schools, located blocks apart, both have low graduation rates and are still recovering from the impact of Hurricane Katrina.