Method in UNO/SUNO merger madness?

By C.B. Forgotston

February 03, 2011 at 1:09 pm  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

When it comes to making bold general statements that are short on details Bobby Jindal has no fear.

However, when it comes to using his personal political capital to implement the politically-difficult, but necessary structural changes needed by our state, the “Roads Scholar,” and I’m being kind here, suffers from risk aversion.

Jindal’s proposal to merge Southern University at New Orleans (“SUNO”) and the University of New of New Orleans (“UNO”) makes a lot of sense from a fiscal and management standpoint. However, doing so without having discussions with key leges doesn’t make a lot of political sense.

The political insiders at the Capitol believe that while the merger might get the necessary two-thirds vote in the House, it is unlikely to pass the Senate. The term “dead on arrival” comes to mind.

Head scratching
The media and pundits around the state are scratching their heads wondering why Jindal would be taking on such a divisive issue in an election year. It’s not as if he doesn’t have his hands full trying to keep the state from running off the “fiscal cliff.”

Perhaps the timing of the merger talk is not as strange as it appears. Perhaps it is really a strategy to simply move UNO into the University of Louisiana System.

Merger or not, House Speaker Jim Tucker, former UNO Chancellor Tim Ryan and other long-time supporters of UNO have publicly indicated that moving the school into the UL System may be better than remaining within the LSU System.

Tactical maneuver
Legislation to combine the two schools and then put them into the UL System will in all likelihood be introduced in the House during the 2011 Regular Session.

At some point during the session, Team Jindal could strike a compromise with the Lege Black Caucus which is opposed to merging SUNO and opposed to removing it from the Southern System. In return for their support to move UNO into the UL System, SUNO would remain as an independent campus in the Southern University System.

The legislation could easily be amended to eliminate any reference to SUNO and to simply move UNO into the UL System.
Given the budget issues the LSU System is facing in the regular session, it would be unlikely to invest too much lobbying or other capital into the fight to keep UNO.

This merger talk could turn out to be an easy win for Jindal. It would allow him to pad his political resume’ with a change in higher education other than budget cutting. He could present it as the beginning of a new management plan for higher ed.

Regardless, before we know the long-term implications of this “plan,” the “Roads Scholar” will be long gone from our state.




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