As historically Black colleges and universities around the nation struggle with flagging endowments and enrollments, one school in Louisiana is considering a controversial but possibly lifesaving idea to help keep its doors open.
On the table in Louisiana is a proposal to merge HBCU the Southern University of New Orleans (SUNO) with the University of New Orleans (UNO), a standard institute of higher learning. Similar proposals have been put forth recently in Mississippi, but they failed following heated public outcries claiming mergers would threaten the sanctity of HBCUs.
The Louisianans calling for the merger, however, are powerful and persistent. Republican Governor Bobby Jindal has come out strongly in support of the plan. He’s even reportedly appointed blacks to the state Board of Regents, the hope being that more diversity would bolster a pro-merger board-approved study set to be released next week. SUNO students recently filed a lawsuit challenging the study and claiming the board is racially imbalanced, but an injunction on the study’s release was later kiboshed by a Baton Rouge judge.
Dr. Lezli Baskerville, president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, argues that past mergers of HBCUs and predominately white schools have seen the HBCU “submerged, not merged, into the white institution.” But she says there are some merits to less intrusive collaborations, especially those involving math and science education.
“The dual degree partnership between Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College and Morehouse College with the Georgia Institute of Technology is just one of many examples of such partnerships,” she wrote in a statement last year. Baskerville has worked with Jindal for years to try and find ways to cut costs while maintaining reasonable standards for Louisiana’s public higher education. In 2009, however, Baskerville specifically told the governor that a plan to meld SUNO with UNO was “expressly rejected” by the Louisiana Postsecondary Education Review Commission, a commission convened by Jindal on which she sat.
Though maintaining financial solvency makes sense for all parties, and it's important if we’re going to keep HBCUs alive for the next generation, Lorenzo Esters, vice president at the Office for Access and the Advancement of Public Black Universities at the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, makes an important point when he notes that there are no motions on the table to merge the thousands of predominantly white colleges and universities around the country.
“I am simply amazed that most merger discussions seem to single out HBCUs,” he told Diverse Issues in Higher Education. “There are 105 HBCUs in this nation. However, there are over 4,300 total institutions of higher learning in this country. Why is it that merger discussions are focused more on HBCUs than other types of institutions?” Why, indeed.
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