Across America, many historically black colleges and universities are having a rough time making it. The most recent added to this list is the historic Southern University in Baton Rouge, La. Still trying to recover from the impact of Hurricane Katrina, the campus is plagued with water-damaged and gutted buildings.
Now the university has to deal with a proposal by Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal to consolidate the school with the nearby, mostly white University of New Orleans. Jindal’s proposal reflects an attitude that has manifested in all the 20 or so states that have public, four-year historically black colleges and universities. On the record, Gov. Jindal stated, “It makes no sense to have colleges blocks apart, neither one of them with graduation rates we can accept.”
Jindal insists his proposal is about improving education, not saving money although Louisiana faces a $1.6 billion budget shortfall. However, in order to pass, he must obtain two-thirds of the vote in the House and the Senate. As anticipated, he is receiving vehement opposition from the Democratic Party and black lawmakers.
Other states have attempted similar changes. A 2009 proposal in Georgia was submitted to merge two mostly black colleges with mostly white institutions but it did not pass. Last year, a proposal by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour would have merged Alcorn State, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley state but it also failed.
Students have filed a complaint with the Department of Justice over the merger, which was adopted in March by Louisiana’s Board of Regents, designed to create a “University of Greater New Orleans.
Southern University opened its doors on March 7, 1881. Notable alumni include professional athletes such as Mel Blount and Lou Brock as well as “American Idol” judge and producer Randy Jackson, Branford Marsalis, and Lieutenant General Russel L. Honore, who commanded the U.S. military’s support of recovery efforts after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. –torrance t. stephens, ph.d.