While its motives for doing so might be suspected, the Louisiana State University System came up with a plan that should be enough to head off any talk of it losing one of its member institutions by a proposed merger of Louisiana State University Shreveport and Louisiana Tech.
Perhaps a week before one or both bills to authorize this merger were due to get discussed in legislative committee, the document outlines, with some specificity, the kinds of things the system said it do would do in order to dispel the most potent complaint merger supporters had forwarded: that the system insufficiently had enabled LSUS to become capable of meeting higher educational needs in the state’s third-largest metropolitan area. The plan calls for new degree programs and certificate offerings, some based on campus, some in collaboration with other system members, increased cooperation with area schools and great expansion of its paltry online course offerings, and other administrative changes designed to boost enrollments and provision.
(Disclaimers: I’m a system/LSUS employee, but of course I don’t speak for it or LSUS. Nor did I have any input at all into this document; none was asked of me, believe it or not ….)
As previously noted, this merger is not a good idea for two reasons. At the micro level, without administration of the merged entity being housed in Shreveport, there is no way this form could improve upon serving the metropolitan area’s needs because the focus of administration never would be adequately on them. But even if this were addressed, at the macro level, Louisiana suffers from an over-built, duplicative system of higher education that only would be made worse by allowing a rural institution to combine with an urban one 70 miles away when there are others only 5 and 30 miles away that are more natural combination partners, and with the one intended to be merged with only a few miles from another in the same system that would be its natural merger partner, locking in even further the maldistributed system that currently exists.
But in these matters costs and benefits don’t rule the day in legislative decisions, as demonstrated last year when necessary legislative majorities missed the slam-dunk approval of merging the University of New Orleans and Southern University New Orleans. Therefore, with momentum building for merger approval, if only as a symbol of the Legislature “doing something” about the inefficient higher education delivery system, it was imperative that opponents provide a solid rationale to counter supporters’ claims. And this does so.
Merger supporters can be forgiven for thinking there’s something desperate about this. No doubt little of the report’s contents was being aggressively pursued by top school and system administrators at the beginning of the year, and outside observers may question the sincerity or seriousness of it all (some of these ideas having been floating around for years, or previously rejected, and suddenly are being presented as priority actions), that only the putting of a gun to the head of the existence of LSUS as a separate entity in the LSU System has brought about this flurry of promised actions contained in it. And, they are just promises with no demonstrated resource support attached.
However, they are officially made. So now that the Legislature has its attentions focused on them, this may compel the System to make a good-faith effort towards keeping them and, provided the resource support credibly can come, together they create an excellent framework by which to address altering the charge of benign neglect merger supporters make that they say would be solved by the merger. And, regardless of what motivated these ideas to receive declarations of System support, they are being forwarded and their merits stand independently of the process that got them there.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 12:30