Governor Bobby Jindal is wrong to propose a merger between the four-year Southern University-New Orleans and the four-year University of New Orleans. He’s just as wrong in the desire to strip SUNO from the Southern System and UNO from the LSU System and put this new combo college, called the University of Louisiana-New Orleans, under the management of the UL System.
Any attempt to make this wrongheaded, yet otherwise bold, plan a reality should be soundly defeated.
What should happen—and what Jindal should propose—is to merge the four-year SUNO with the two-year Delgado Community College and put whatever anyone wants to call this new New Orleans jumbo junior college under the management of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System.
Let’s pause for a moment, shall we, and watch the heads of Southern supporters and the Legislative Black Caucus explode.
The evidence is clear: SUNO is a junior college disguised as a horribly performing four-year university.
SUNO, according to Southern University associate professor Albert Samuels, is a place where many of its students are not working toward a degree, but, rather, “are simply taking courses to acquire or enhance their knowledge or skills [in some cases to earn promotions or to qualify for new positions].”
Other supporters, especially those defending the school’s dismal 8% graduation rate, argue a large number of students, thanks to an equally dismal K-12 public education, are not academically prepared for college when they enter SUNO. More than half the student body is over the age of 25, holding down full- or part-time jobs and attending SUNO as part-time students.
Let’s accept every part of the SUNO defense outlined above as fact. What you have then, in SUNO, is the living, breathing definition of a junior college.
Which is why Jindal and others who support the SUNO-UNO merger are wrong for attempting to jam a de facto junior college into a mediocre four-year university under the guise of progress.
If Louisiana wants to get serious about reforming its outdated, over-politicized and underperforming higher education system, then a good place to start is to definitively outline the roles and scope of two-year and four-year institutions—and then place existing colleges and universities in the role each actually belongs.
Which includes SUNO and, yes, LSU-Alexandria, among others, becoming community colleges.
Of course, our political buffoonery being what it is—coupled with this state’s obsession with tertiary pretensions trumping core objectives—there’s exactly zero chance of this ever actually happening.
Equally bewildering is why black leaders continue to staunchly defend educational systems and entities that negatively impact African Americans more than any other demographic.
Let’s not be naďve; racism is alive and well in Louisiana—and everywhere else in this country—but to say the SUNO issue is rooted in racism, as SUNO employee and State Rep. Austin Badon suggests, marginalizes the real racism that is out there.
State Rep. Pat Smith, head of the Legislative Black Caucus and a former member of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board, declares Jindal is “the devil” for even wading into the SUNO issue. This is the same Pat Smith who regularly fought anyone daring to propose bold changes to a Baton Rouge public school system that utterly and sadly fails its overwhelmingly majority black student population. Her battleground now is higher education, which should alarm everyone, considering SUNO’s abysmal record as a four-year institution, and the shockingly rapid decline of Southern University.
No doubt, the black community holds deep distrust of anyone saying, “I’m from the white community and I’m here to help.” Maybe history gives them ample right to feel that way.
Incomprehensible, however, is why a black community—where far too many are too impoverished and too uneducated to have a legitimate shot at competing in a world driven by knowledge and innovation—remains silent?
That’s as wrong as Jindal’s idea to merge SUNO and UNO.