Legislation to transfer the University of New Orleans out of the LSU System could set the table for Louisiana Tech University to join the LSU family, legislators and higher education leaders said Thursday.
The Senate on Thursday approved Senate Bill 266 — without objection — to move UNO into the University of Louisiana System, which proponents said manages more similar institutions.
SB266 sponsor and state Sen. Conrad Appel, R-Metairie, said the legislation would set the “precedent” for future transfers, including one “major institution” he said is interested in moving now.
“This is setting the stage for the future,” Appel said.
State Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell confirmed the push is for Louisiana Tech, located in Ruston, to move out of the UL System and into the LSU System, which would essentially equate to a UNO-Tech swap.
But the Louisiana Board of Regents would have to study the matter first, Purcell said. That could allow for legislation next year to move Tech.
“There’s a process that’s required,” Purcell said. “We plan to do regional studies.”
Longtime Louisiana Tech President Dan Reneau said Thursday there is a “resurgence” in interest of Louisiana Tech joining the LSU System. Such a UNO-Tech swap has been discussed passively for several years, without any movement occurring until now.
“There could be advantages or disadvantages,” Reneau said.
While Reneau said Tech is “very happy” in the UL System, he said he needs to be open to other possibilities that could improve the university.
An LSU System-commissioned study five years ago suggested the Tech-UNO swap as a way of setting up a possible three-way merger of Louisiana Tech, LSU at Shreveport and the LSU Health Sciences Center at Shreveport.
Purcell said the latest transfer discussions generated from the Louisiana Committee of 100 for Economic Development, which is a private, nonprofit organization made up of the state’s top chief executive officers and higher education leaders.
Major Louisiana Tech booster and trucking magnate James Davison, of Ruston, serves on the Committee of 100 executive board.
LSU Chancellor Michael Martin was Tech’s commencement speaker last month and, last year, LSU hosted Reneau for a “Future of Louisiana Research Universities” forum that only included LSU and Tech.
Martin and Reneau have said the flagship LSU campus and Tech plan to do more “joint appointments” to share the costs of hiring top-notch faculty. They also intend to expand joint research in nanotechnology, biomedical engineering and other fields.
Last week, the LSU System Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution to allow LSU System President John Lombardi to move forward with the UNO transfer if it is approved by the Legislature as anticipated.
Lombardi said Thursday he is not involved in any Tech talks, but would not oppose it.
“We’re in favor of everybody doing what they want,” Lombardi said of UNO and Tech.
As for the UNO transfer, the state Senate approved the move on a 35-0 vote, after legislators’ concerns about the costs of the transfer were largely alleviated.
The state Senate Committee on Education also approved without objection Thursday House Bill 537, which is the nearly identical House version of the UNO transfer by House Speaker Jim Tucker, who is a UNO graduate.
The UNO transfer developed this legislative session as a Louisiana House compromise after a proposed merger of UNO and Southern University at New Orleans was defeated.
State Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans, said UNO has been the “red-headed stepchild” of the LSU System for years. UNO was named LSU at New Orleans, or LSUNO, until 1974.
“This has actually been a long time coming,” Morrell said Thursday during “UNO Day” at the State Capitol. “It (UNO) has thrived and survived despite the negligence of its parent system.”
“Give them the present they desperately need,” Appel said, while urging his colleagues to support the bill.
SB266 was amended Thursday so the state and the Board of Regents will indemnify and hold harmless the LSU System and UL System during the transfer process, so they would not be legally liable for any litigation that could result regarding personnel and other matters.
Appel said the plan is for Lloyd’s of London to insure the process.
Appel said nearly $600,000 that UNO annually kicks back to the LSU System will fund the transfer process, along with $200,000 donated by the private, nonprofit UNO Foundation.
Appel said the agreed-upon framework could be the model for other transfers.
SB266 also was amended so the Legislature would pay for any additional costs and so that current UNO tenured faculty and tenure-track faculty would not be subject to the UL System’s tenure rules.
UNO faculty have expressed concerns that the UL System approved rules in February that let colleges lay off faculty, including tenured professors, more quickly and easily during times of budget cuts and academic program eliminations.