The Southern University System is extremely important to the future of the state of Louisiana. Its campuses are mission driven to serve not only the well-prepared student, but the underprepared and underserved as well. In a state that is among the poorest and least educated in the nation, where 74 percent of the people in prison are African American, the role of Southern cannot be minimized.

Southern is indeed a small system, but the fact that it is a system offers opportunities for leadership in a globally competitive economy. The “Southern Strategy,” our plan to retrench, reposition and rebuild, will reshape Southern as a model system of higher learning. The size of the system staff has been reduced by half. Centralized services, synergistic academic programs across our two- and four-year campuses, and workforce sensitive and electronic delivery mechanisms will enable better responses to long-standing higher education challenges.

Our community college campus in Shreveport is one of the best in the state and a key component of the northwest Louisiana economy. In 2010 our New Orleans campus awarded 52 percent of the bachelor degrees earned by African Americans at public institutions of higher learning in New Orleans. Even the recent Board of Regents NCHEMS study said an SUNO merger with the University of New Orleans would have been bad education policy. Our law school is devoted to serving the underserved, yet it is also one of the most popular in the nation. Our Agricultural Center works with underserved communities across the state. Our Baton Rouge campus, despite well-publicized issues, still produces some of the best teachers and nurses in Louisiana.

We clearly have many education challenges in Louisiana, beginning even before a child is born. However, there is no data to show that constitutional structural changes in and of themselves will make much difference. Instead of continuous engagement in emotionally sensitive discussions about the elimination of beloved schools and systems, we may be better served by better enabling colleges and universities to do what they do best, serve the students. Certainly we can all do a better job, but there are increasing signs of cooperation and progress at all levels of education across the state. There would be more but for the enormous amounts of energy consumed in constantly defending our work.

As for Southern, it is difficult to imagine what Louisiana would be without it, now and in the future. When seen as a whole, it is a unique asset for Louisiana, that in time will be much greater than the sum of the parts. Our goal is to be a model system of higher learning for the state and the nation.

Ronald Mason Jr., president

Southern University System

Baton Rouge