Monday, February 7, 2011

New Orleans Merger Proposed

A merger has been proposed in New Orleans that has touched off a lightning rod of controversy and spurred a tremendous amount of media coverage. Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed the merger of the University of New Orleans and the Southern University at New Orleans into a single institution. Jindal cited declining enrollment and poor graduation rates among the reasons for the proposed merger.

Southern, an historically Black institution, would be combined with the traditionally White University of New Orleans. Supporters of historically Black institutions, and specifically of Southern, lament what could potentially be the end of an institution that they say serves a critical mission for minority students. The merger discussion has generated spirited discourse and vehement objection by students, alumni and other supporters of Southern opposed to the merger. Jindal's proposal caught many off-guard, including institutional leaders and politicians.

A consultant is currently conducting a feasibility study for the merger that is expected by March 1.

This proposed merger is flawed on several fronts, and cannot truly be discussed in the same vein as other mutual growth mergers discussed on this blog. The issues include:
  1. Impetus: Gov. Jindal suggests that his chief concern is how to best serve the students of these two institutions. If those concerns are truly paramount, he may wish to look into the literature of student development in historically Black institutions to ascertain student achievement in that setting as opposed to a more integrated student population. Proponents of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) would suggest herein one would find one of the major advantages of the institutions.
  2. Critical Concerns: Anytime you have students, alumni and others literally protesting an idea immediately upon inception, there will be problems moving the idea forward. At the core are racial issues and the notion of the role of HBCUs in today's society. That is an entirely different debate, one that will not be visited here. As long as people have that concern, it will get in the way of an otherwise fair and reasonable merger discussion. This element simply places it on an entirely different level.
  3. Process: If Gov. Jindal really wanted this merger to happen, he should have begun the process with the institutions themselves, not with a bully pulpit and fellow politicians. Only by securing the input and buy-in of institutional representatives could this discussion have had a chance to move forward in a rational, meaningful way. It is the process of having something done "to you" rather than "by you." Add in the racial underpinnings, and the situation was destined for disaster from the beginning.
In the end, while there are some ardent politicians that are in support of this merger, it likely does not have a realistic chance to take place in the near future. There is simply too much opposition, and the process was flawed from the start. One cannot have a realistic debate about the merger when there are so many individuals vehemently opposed to it. Whether the opponents' concerns are valid or not, they are there, and this merger, if enacted, would tremendously upset and alienate countless individuals for a very long time.

Recent articles on the subject are listed below.