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Story Archives: Merging UNO, SUNO right thing to do
|Merging UNO, SUNO right thing to do|
Gov. Bobby Jindal probably knew his proposal to consolidate the University of New Orleans (UNO) with Southern University's campus (SUNO) in the Big Easy would be met with some opposition in some corners.
After all, New Orleans and many of its residents – especially those whose ancestors first called New Orleans home some 200-plus years ago – don't "cotton" to the idea of anyone telling them what to do, how to do it and when to do it, especially a Republican governor. New Orleans and it residents know best. Just ask them.
The problem our friends in the Crescent City have in bucking Jindal on consolidating UNO and SUNO is Jindal, quite frankly, can easily pay lip service to their concerns while moving forward with his own agenda. Remember, New Orleans voters didn't embrace Jindal when he was first elected governor in 2007, and it's highly likely voters there won't line up to support him in the fall 2011 elections. To put bluntly, Jindal owes them nothing.
The other big obstacle standing between consolidating UNO and SUNO and New Orleans residents who would have us believe the world would come to an end if it occurred is the facts warrant a consolidation of the two universities. Let's take a look at them.
• UNO graduated 21 percent of its students in the past six years; SUNO graduated five percent of its students during that same period.
• UNO's enrollment dropped 32 percent following Hurricane Katrina, from 17,000 students then to 11,700 today; SUNO's enrollment fell by 14 percent since Katrina, from 3,500 students in 2005 to 3,100 today.
• UNO's classrooms are full, or in use, some 44 percent of the time during any given semester; SUNO has not updated its information on the use of its classrooms since 2005, but in 2005, SUNO's classrooms were used 46 percent of the time in a given semester.
• UNO's budget tops out at $121.1 million with some $41 million of that budget courtesy of the state general fund; SUNO operates on a $21.9 million budget, while some $8.5 million of that funding concerns state general fund revenues.
One of the popular arguments against consolidating UNO and SUNO rests solely on race. In other words, according to some opponents of consolidation, Jindal employed racism in calling for consolidating UNO and SUNO because SUNO is a historically black university.
Historically black universities must be protected, SUNO advocates say. If that's the case, shouldn't historically white universities receive preferential treatment, too?
Making an issue of race or racism is a non-starter, but it's a tactic many of our friends in the black community often employ to divert attention from the real issue at hand. In this case, or in the case of consolidating UNO and SUNO, the real issue or concern is about money and power.
For years, SUNO has served as a de facto employment agency for scores of black, politically connected New Orleans residents. In some cases, elected officials themselves managed to secure good paying jobs at SUNO courtesy of 'ole Joe Blow the taxpayer.
Opponents of consolidating UNO and SUNO can rest easy since Jindal asked the Board of Regents to study his proposal and report its findings by March 1. Assuming the Board of Regents embraces the governor's plan, Jindal must convince two-thirds of the Legislature to approve it.
The Board of Regents most likely will go along with Jindal on this one. If any member of the board opposes Jindal's plan, you can rest assured that board member will fall out of favor with the Jindal administration, and we all know what that means – that board member won't be reappointed to the board if his or her term on the board expires while Jindal is governor.
Getting the Legislature to go along with consolidating UNO and SUNO is an entirely different issue altogether, which Jindal must deal with in an election year, a time when lawmakers don't care to tackle controversial topics. Remember, consolidating UNO and SUNO will take a two-thirds vote in the state House and Senate. That's a tall order, especially if the legislative Black Caucus is successful in turning the debate over consolidation into a debate about racism.
Racism or not, all of higher education faces cuts in funding in light of a $1.6 billion revenue shortfall heading into the 2011-2012 fiscal year. Consolidating two underperforming universities to free up precious funding for other schools makes perfect sense. That alone may be why consolidating UNO and SUNO never occurs.