Sunday, January 31, 2010

Update on Proposed Mississippi Mergers

The discussions on merger proposals in Mississippi continue to get significant press, while prospects for the mergers taking place remain slim. Options on the table, as proposed by Governor Haley Barbour, include merging Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State into Jackson State University, and merging Mississippi University for Women into Mississippi State University. The impetus for the mergers stems from a significant state budget shortfall and a desire for greater efficiencies among the state universities. Leading state legislators have called the proposals 'dead on arrival' and suggested that no mergers will occur. The latest proposal is by Jackson State President Ronald Mason, Jr. who developed an idea to merge Alcorn State, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State into a new "Jacobs State University." Mason has received quite a bit of negative response on the idea from his constituents and legislators alike.

While the proposed mergers clearly have racial undertones with the HBCUs, the need or lack thereof for HBCUs is not the central question. Rather, budget issues have forced these discussions, and for that reason, the budgetary debate should continue to be foremost in the minds of legislators. Some Mississippi politicians have suggested that the state can and should support eight public colleges and universities, and they simply should be funded at an appropriate level. These decisions are proving to be difficult ones right now in legislatures all around the country.

Recent articles on the subject are listed below.

Baylor College of Medicine Merger Update

After failed talks of merging with Rice University, the Baylor College of Medicine is now in discussions on merging with former parent institution Baylor University. These discussions have already drawn the ire of many who oppose the would-be merger. In a petition, signers commented on what they feel is a conflict between the religious-affiliated university and the research-based medical school. Issues such as evolution, stem cell research and sexual orientation could prove to be difficult to reconcile with the mission of the Baptist university. Baylor College of Medicine Interim President Dr. William Butler attempted to ease concerns, suggesting that "Any new affiliation agreement between Baylor College of Medicine and Baylor University will assure that BCM maintains its independence and importantly, its scientific and academic freedom." He continued, "Our board is firmly committed to remaining a non-sectarian institution and continuing with our current non-discrimination policy and affirmative action program."

Monday, January 18, 2010

UMass Dartmouth Law School Merger

The State of Massachusetts will have a public law school following an acquisition of the Southern New England School of Law by UMass Dartmouth. The UMass board of trustees approved the merger in December, and approval by the state board of education is pending.


Mississippi Mergers Update

The president of Mississippi State University said recently that he does not expect approval for a merger with the Mississippi University for Women. President Mark Keenum suggests that there isn't the political support in the state legislature for any of the university mergers proposed by Governor Haley Barbour.

While House Universities and Colleges Committee Chairman Kelvin Buck calls the merger proposal out-of-the question, his Senate counterpart suggested otherwise. Senator Doug Davis calls early decisions premature, and said that he was "not prepared to say a merger is dead in the water." Davis said that he wants to know how the state universities plan to cope with budget cuts of 12 to 15 percent, and suggested that enhanced efficiencies cannot bear the brunt of these types of cuts, and that other options must be considered.

Rice University - Baylor College of Medicine Merger Update


Rice University and the Baylor College of Medicine will not merge in the near future. Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education report that merger talks ended between the two institutions. While there were voices on both sides of the proposed merger, it appears that financial concerns related to BCM scuttled the merger. Rice attempted to put the financial picture to the side with conditions outlined in deliberations, but it appears that the financial concerns continued to take center stage.

While the proposed merger may have been mission-complementary - a combination that programmatically made sense - the merger would not have been a true mutual growth merger. In mutual growth mergers, both institutions come together out of positions of strength. To an extent, this merger would inevitably have been considered a bailout of BCM by Rice. Nobody wants to take on a sinking ship. Perhaps if BCM can get their financial house in order, this merger can be revisited in the future.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour on Proposed Mergers

Mississippi House Universities and Colleges Committee Chairman Kelvin Buck recently said that the proposed higher education mergers "wouldn't happen on his watch," and Governor Haley Barbour defended his plan for merging state universities. Barbour suggests potential cost savings of merging the institutions including fewer administrators, athletic programs and reduced degree and course offerings. Barbour remarked, "Candidly, we don't need eight schools of education in Mississippi. And I think you would see some moving around of offerings, not only graduate offerings but undergraduate courses as well."

I don't doubt that the State of Mississippi is in a serious budget crunch. Other states including Ohio have looked at reducing the duplication of programs among state universities. But for Barbour to delve into a racially-sensitive issue (by suggesting merger of the HBCUs) to solve a budget problem was probably not the best idea. Merging colleges and universities should not be done exclusively for fiscal reasons anyway, so this idea never really had legs to begin with.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Proposed Shreveport, LA Mergers

Ongoing discussions of university mergers in Shreveport, LA have resurfaced at a recent meeting of the Louisiana Postsecondary Review Commission. Potential mergers include a combination of LSU-Shreveport and the LSU Health Sciences Center, or LSU-Shreveport with Louisiana Tech University. These discussions have been initiated by politicians and commission members. So far, university officials have been non-committal on the possibilities, and not endorsing any specific options. Like the recent merger discussions in Mississippi, impetus for these mergers has come from outside the institutions, not within – a key indicator that typically does not bode well for merger formalization and implementation. Also of note is that the possibility of the LSU-Shreveport merger with the LSU Health Sciences Center would be a “mission-complementary” merger, as outlined and recommended by Martin and Samels (1994), in that it would add a medical school to the comprehensive university. Alternatively, a combination of LSU-Shreveport and Louisiana Tech would involve combining institutions with duplicative programs, again a model that can prove difficult to formalize successfully.

Recent articles on the subject are listed below.

Shreveport Mayor urges possible LSUS, LSUHSC merger (Shreveporttimes.com)

Tech LSUS merger eyed (Thenewsstar.com)

Lots of hurdles before LSUS can merge (Shreveporttimes.com)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Brief Background of American Higher Education Mergers

In my opening post on this blog, I promised to provide a brief background of mergers in American higher education. A much more extensive review can be found in the literature review of my dissertation. While mergers have not been terribly common in American higher education, quite a few have occurred over the years. It is also the case that this is a topic that has not been examined in great detail in the literature. A few books have been written on the topic, a handful of journal articles (most focusing on mergers outside the United States) and a few dissertations.

Central to the understanding of traditional merger thought was that institutions merged out of financial necessity, with one institution "bailing out" another in financial disarray. This view was espoused by John D. Millett in his 1976 book Mergers in Higher Education: An Analysis of Ten Case Studies. During this time, Millett found that the mergers he examined all involved some sort of financial difficulty by one or more of the partners involved, and the merger facilitated survival in some sense.

Millett's approach is contrasted by a more modern one, that of the mutual growth model. In 1994, James Martin and James E. Samels published Merging Colleges for Mutual Growth: A New Strategy for Academic Managers. In this text, Martin and Samels posit that mergers should occur for mutual growth, not for financial reasons. The mutual growth concept entails two or more institutions coming together each out of positions of strength, with the end product combined being stronger than the individual parts. This is merging for the "right" reason, and Martin and Samels would suggest that merging for financial reasons can mean setting up the merger for difficulty, and possibly failure. Mergers that do not involve the duplication of academic programs are also more likely to succeed, such as adding a medical or engineering school into a comprehensive university. Mergers involving the combination of two liberal arts institutions, for instance, may have much more difficulty due to the controversial nature of their overlapping programs. How does one reconcile two English department chairs? Two sets of English department faculty? Different requirements and curricula in the English program?

A list of higher education mergers in the United States shows a broad cross-section of institutions, geographically and with respect to the type of merger. Mergers that are proposed today tend to fit both the traditional and mutual growth approaches, though financial factors seem to figure in, at least in a minor way, in nearly all cases. In some of the strongest cases for mutual growth mergers, cost savings is listed as a minor potential benefit of the mergers. Major potential benefits of mutual growth mergers typically include enhanced opportunities for academic synergy (connection between programs and possibilities for new programs), greater opportunities for research funding, enhanced economic and political clout and more. President of The University of Toledo, Dr. Lloyd Jacobs, has one of my favorite sayings about universities that directly relates to the merger of institutions. Dr. Jacobs says that the degree that you hold from an institution is like a variable stock certificate; it can go up or down in value. Therefore as an alum of a university, you should want the institution to prosper, thus making your degree more valuable. Indeed, with mutual growth mergers planned and executed well, the institutions can become more prestigious, thus increasing the value of the degrees of alumni.

This blog covers proposed mergers of both the traditional and modern approaches, but added emphasis is given to mergers of mutual growth. This is due to the fact that the institutions examined in my dissertation followed the mutual growth model, and because I agree with Martin and Samels that merging under these circumstances provides the best opportunity for success in creating a vibrant, dynamic merged institution.

Rice University - Baylor College of Medicine Merger

A proposed merger between Rice University and the Baylor College of Medicine has been under discussion for more than a year. Rice University President David W. Leebron recently wrote a column describing the challenges and potential benefits of the merger.

This proposed merger is of similar type - mutual growth - to the mergers that I am examining in my dissertation. The institutions in my study also involve mergers between comprehensive institutions and free-standing medical schools. The higher education merger literature suggests that this type of merger has the best chances for success, as two strong entities come together to make them stronger combined, and they do not involve the duplication of programs (two arts and sciences colleges, two business colleges, etc.). It will be very interesting to see the progress as this merger moves forward and how the merger may impact the Houston area.