NEW ORLEANS — Calling Gov. Bobby Jindal’s defeated plan to merge colleges seemingly “hostile,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said Southern University at New Orleans needs to use it as a “wakeup call” to improve and embrace more partnerships.
Landrieu met Friday with the Southern University Board of Supervisors at SUNO on the day after the close of the 2011 regular legislative session.
Jindal’s proposal to merge SUNO with the University of New Orleans because of their struggling performance ended up as a compromise to transfer UNO from the LSU System to the University of Louisiana System.
“It was premature; it wasn’t well thought out,” Landrieu said of the proposed merger. “It seemed hostile, not inviting, and so we had to go to bat.”
Landrieu said the focus must be on educating all the young people in the metro area and not on debating mergers and college governance.
He said SUNO must have a bold, post-Hurricane Katrina vision and embrace partnerships with UNO, Delgado Community College and private colleges.
“Don’t get stuck on what it could look like,” he said. “Think about what it could become.
“We need to have a pipeline to success and move away from the pipeline to prison,” Landrieu said.
Education fights crime, the mayor said, and New Orleans has a murder rate that is 10 times the national average.
Citing five John McDonogh High School students murdered this year so far, Landrieu said a McDonogh student is statistically more likely to be killed than a soldier in Afghanistan.
As for state politics, the Louisiana Legislature this week ended up sending $500,000 to the Southern University System to move forward with its plan for SUNO and Delgado to share the proposed Honoré Center for Undergraduate Student Achievement.
Southern System President Ronald Mason Jr. said the center is the first major step toward SUNO becoming a national model for historically black colleges in urban settings.
SUNO would house the residential center to serve as an intense preparation and screening process for college, Mason said.
The center is named after retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, a Baton Rouge resident who was largely viewed as a hero for New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Mason also said new Southern Board member Eamon Kelly, who is a past Tulane University president, will help lead the development of a plan for SUNO, UNO and Delgado to partner together better. The plan will be completed by February, Mason said.
SUNO employee and state Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, who chairs the House Education committee, said the Jindal administration “should be embarrassed” by the lack of facility improvements to the SUNO campus since Katrina, as well as the red-tape holdup of recovery dollars.
On Thursday, the Louisiana Board of Regents also authorized SUNO to move forward with a $3 million, 10,000-square-foot small business incubator project on campus.
SUNO Chancellor Victor Ukpolo said the goal is to open the new incubator in about 18 months.
Regents board member Robert Bruno, of Covington, was highly critical of the efforts to aid SUNO since Katrina.
“It’s outrageous,” Bruno said Thursday. “I find it completely and totally unacceptable.”
“We were never given responsibility for that,” responded Regents Vice Chairwoman Mary Ellen Roy, of New Orleans. “It was not under our control and responsibility.”
“If someone’s not going to do it, then we’ve got to do it,” Bruno countered. “It’s embarrassing and ridiculous six years later.”