Louisiana's Plan to Merge Schools Draws Protests

Proposal to combine Southern University at New Orleans with a white college sparks outrage.

Posted: 04/27/2011 03:44 PM EDT
Filed Under HBCU

An interior wall of the gutted administration building, which is still not repaired since flooding from Hurricane Katrina, is seen at Southern University at New Orleans. (Photo: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's proposal to consolidate Southern University at New Orleans with the nearby, mostly white University of New Orleans continues to draw opposition.

Jindal says it doesn’t make sense to have the two schools just blocks apart from each other, especially since many of SUNO’s buildings still have been repaired since the flooding from Hurricane Katrina that nearly wiped out the HBCU in 2005.

The plan brings up a racially charged argument that comes up periodically when dealing with HBCUs when state budgets are tight, writes the Associated Press.

"Every time the economy tanks, and certainly, right now, these are dire economic times, understandably governments and legislatures look for ways of cutting costs while maintaining and increasing a level of educational excellence," Lezli Baskerville, president of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, told the AP. "We certainly applaud and salute that."

While Jindal made his arguments Tuesday at his weekly legislative news conference in the state capitol, 200 SUNO supporters gathered on the Capitol steps in Baton Rouge to protest the proposal.

Writes the AP about the merger: "This latest effort comes as Louisiana faces a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, and it's being pushed by a governor with high approval ratings and no announced opposition so far as he campaigns for re-election in the fall. Still, it will require a hard-to-get two-thirds vote in the House and the Senate and has strong opposition from the Democratic Party, black lawmakers and much of the New Orleans political establishment, including Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

"Jindal insists his proposal is about improving education, not saving money. Unveiled in January, it comes a little more than five years after both campuses were badly damaged when levees breached during Katrina and much of the city flooded. Lower post-Katrina enrollment and low graduation rates plague both schools, especially SUNO, where the percentage of students who graduate within six years is less than 8 percent."

Students have filed a complaint with the Department of Justice, charging the state with discrimination against minority students.