New Orleans — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, on Tuesday ordered a study of the feasibility of merging two neighboring New Orleans universities that have both struggled to fill classrooms and graduate students. A combined institution might provide stronger services to the students of the universities and of another nearby institution, Delgado Community College, which lacks space for all of its students, the governor said.
Governor Jindal’s statement only alluded, however, to the issue of race. He is proposing to merge historically black Southern University at New Orleans with the predominantly white University of New Orleans. Further, the governor wants to study the idea of placing the new institution in the University of Louisiana System, which oversees regional state universities. Currently, UNO is part of the Louisiana State University System and SUNO is part of the historically black Southern University System. So in a formerly segregated state, the proposal would not only merge a black college with a predominantly white one, but would remove one of the three campuses of a historically black university system.
The governor made the proposal on a day that Ronald Mason Jr., president of the Southern system, was at an out-of-state speaking engagement. He released a statement late Tuesday saying he was “shocked” by the plan. “The Southern University SYSTEM is an important entity in the state of Louisiana, and for the past 52 years SUNO has served as a critical component of the Southern University System,” said Mason’s statement (the all upper case “system” is from his statement). “SUNO will continue to work diligently towards meeting the urban education needs and challenges of the city of New Orleans.”