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Analysis shows weakness of merger opponents' claims

As the two bills to merge Southern University New Orleans and the University of New Orleans begin wending their ways through the legislative process, it’s helpful to recognize the insufficiency of contentions made of those who oppose them.

These bills, HB 537 by House Speaker Jim Tucker and SB 183 by state Sen. Conrad Appel, in many respects parallel recommendations made by a special committee hired by the Board of Regents to study the matter by request of Gov. Bobby Jindal. But they do vary crucially in that they would dissolve both organizations and merge them into one, as opposed to the board’s recommendation of separate units sharing infrastructure and some tasks. This has brought up one genuine issue, about whether the new entity would qualify as a Historically Black College and University, making it eligible for federal funding in the form of grants to support financial management, physical plant renovations and improvements, endowment building infrastructure, and academic resources.

State higher education officials disagree on that status (the definition of one from the Higher Education Act of 1965 being “any … whose principal mission was, and is, the education of black Americans, and that is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency or association determined by the Secretary [of Education] to be a reliable authority as to the quality of training offered”). And whether the federal dollars truly support the mission of providing quality education to students is debatable (such as with this example). But whether a combined school is one it might be a moot point according to the arguments of supporters of the bill.

They contend that, regardless of the source of money, if not used efficiently it won’t be effective to the educational mission.


Higher admit standards provide compelling merger case

It’s good to see the legacy media finally are discovering a decisive aspect not just to the upcoming public policy debate about the merger proposed between Southern University New Orleans and the University of New Orleans, but also something that decisively will reshape higher education across the state. As this space repeatedly has noted, starting next fall higher admission standards to all tertiary education institutions are on the way with substantial consequences for SUNO in particular.

These new requirements for admission mean for an institution like SUNO for entrance a new college student younger than 25 would have to have 19 core units in high schools, a minimum 2.0 grade point average there overall and in these core courses, no remedial coursework needed, and a minimum of 20 on the American College Test. Two years later, a minimum on the ACT math portion of 19 and on English of 18 will be needed. At present, only a core of 17.5 units, as many as one remedial course needed, and any of a 2.0 overall GPA, 20 on the ACT, or graduating in the top half of a high school class serves. Note that the national ACT average is about 21 while at SUNO it is 15.5, and that in a number of high schools across the state almost no members of it who graduate qualify for Taylor Opportunity Program for Students award which requires a 20 on the ACT.

As a result, a stunning 79 percent of SUNO students admitted in 2009 would not have qualified under the impending standards, producing 867 fewer students on campus – a drop of 29 percent of the entire student body.


Board must slow rush to unwise grandiose hospital

Slowly but surely, the issue of the size of the new University Medical Center, the physical manifestation of which better known in the past affectionately/derisively as “Big Charity,” is becoming a policy quagmire to Gov. Bobby Jindal, infected as it is with the strains of government-as-venture-capitalist and populism viruses that have plagued Louisiana for so long.

Recent questioning by Sen. David Vitter over the size of the facility, currently pegged at 424 beds, and the apparent reluctance of the federal government to commit funding for that particular idea, have put the Jindal Administration on the defensive. A report, the fourth on the plan but the first done entirely independently of the Division of Administration and/or the Louisiana State University System, which operates the state’s charity hospitals, added more doubt when it concluded operating subsidies by the state would be higher than ever forecasted at this size, which it argued was unsustainable.

At first, Jindal actually put up some resistance to the notion of a grandiose new Big Charity, after the former Gov. Kathleen Blanco Administration intended for one to replace the damaged facilities as a result of Hurricane Katrina, justified by the self-serving initial report.


Jindal critics dishonest with use of devalued tax rhetoric

One of the great tragedies of modern discourse and argumentation has been the devaluation of meanings to words, where those trying to gain rhetorical advantage use words in ways to convey some intended impression that does not comport with their actual definitions. A reporter’s opinion piece reviews – and to some degree echoes – the phenomenon as it relates to debate over Louisiana’s budget for next fiscal year.

For differing reasons, participants in the policy-making process as diverse as liberal Democrats to conservative commentators have a desperate need it seems to make it appear Gov. Bobby Jindal lacks fidelity on his pledge not to raise “taxes” in any form and plays word games realted to the concept. Thus, they claim one or both of increasing fees and increasing tuition at public colleges constitutes a “tax increase,” and/or removing an existing tax exemption is not a “tax increase.”

To assess these claims, we first must understand the terms involved in their uncorrupted forms. A “tax” is a charge levied by government, either in some proportional or capitated form, upon a certain active or passive behavior for the purpose of funding government activity. For example, in Louisiana when a sale of goods of service occurs, under most conditions the state levies a four percent surcharge of the value of the sale. The state also charges 20 cents per gallon on gasoline sold at retail, and local governments charge varying millage rates for the passive activity of holding property, subject to some exemptions.