SUNO & UNO Merger called off


The announced compromise with the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus would instead move UNO from the LSU System and into the University of Louisiana System, while forming a better working relationship among UNO, SUNO and Delgado Community College.
“We are very pleased,” said Black Caucus chairwoman and state Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge, while announcing the deal. “We are committed to working with him (Tucker) very closely on working on these cooperative endeavor agreements.”
Smith and others have argued the contentious merger, which needed two-thirds legislative support, would have limited educational opportunities for low-income and minority students in the New Orleans region, while also eliminating a historically black college. Gov. Bobby Jindal backed the merger legislation.
Tucker, R-Terrytown, said he is “disappointed” his House Bill 537 will not move forward as intended.
“It’s a sad day that we couldn’t do more for higher education in New Orleans,” Tucker said. “I firmly believe that for New Orleans a combined institution was a better choice.”
Tucker said UNO should at least fare better in the UL System with other like-minded universities. He and other UNO supporters have complained that UNO often gets treated unfairly in the LSU System, where the flagship LSU campus gets a lot more resources.
Tucker said it would be “near suicidal” for the LSU System to fight the UNO transfer when the governor, Republicans and the Black Caucus are all united.
Tucker said he spoke with the Jindal administration before opting to concede.
“…We’re not going to give up on our fight to improve educational opportunities,” Jindal said in a prepared statement. “We make no apologies for pushing big, ambitious and bold ideas to improve our state.”
Jindal has frequently criticized UNO and SUNO for their post-Hurricane Katrina struggles, including SUNO’s low 8 percent graduation rate. That means 8 percent of SUNO students graduate in six years, but that does not count transfers, part-time students or those who took longer to graduate.
The proposed legislation would have formed the University of Louisiana at New Orleans containing two distinct academic units with different admission standards and separate course offerings.
The merged institution would have moved into the UL System with Delgado given a satellite campus there as well. The UL System includes the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Southeastern Louisiana University and six other schools.
Critics also have argued the merger would actually cost the state more money during the initial transition years.
Tucker had maintained all along that he would have the necessary 70, or two-thirds, votes in the House to move the merger legislation to the Senate.
But Tucker said the Black Caucus managed to flip two white Democrats, who had previously said they would support the legislation. Tucker said that served as the death knell of the merger. He would not name the two he said changed their minds.
“It was going to have a harder time in the Senate than it was here, but that’s just speculation,” Tucker said.
Tucker said all but one of the 55 House GOP members backed the merger. Rep. Rickey Nowlin, R-Natchitoches, who now has a majority black district, was the lone holdout.
State Rep. Rickey Hardy, D-Lafayette, was the only member of the Black Caucus to back the merger.
Tucker would have needed to pick up at least 15 votes from white Democrats.
Tucker said he plans to move forward Monday with the revised transfer legislation, which will not include a merger.
“This was the next best thing,” Tucker said. “Half a pie is better than no pie.”
Tucker said he still believes a merger would have created more academic program offerings for students while also ensuring students are placed properly.
Tucker said state-mandated admission standard increases in 2012 project that nearly 80 percent of SUNO’s first-time freshmen in 2009 would not qualify for acceptance in 2012.
“I think SUNO is in deep trouble,” Tucker said. “I always viewed this legislation, in a way, as saving SUNO.
“We’ll still have low graduation rates, and we’ll still have limited resources that do not allow either of the institutions to succeed in the way we want them to,” Tucker added.
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