Friday, May 14, 2010

New Orleans Higher Education Consortium: More Hostile Takeover Than Cooperative Endeavor

This statement was prepared by the Save UNO Coalition.

Members of the SAVE UNO coalition (a group of concerned students, faculty, staff, and alumni of UNO), write to express opposition to plans outlined in a recent proposal of unknown origin to create a New Orleans Higher Education Consortium (NOHEC) consisting of the University of New Orleans (UNO), Southern University of New Orleans (SUNO), and Delgado Community College.

The proposal promises that the consortium will make available new paths to success for local students, but we are most skeptical about these claims. We find the proposal heavy-handed and more like a hostile takeover that will gut SUNO and restrict access to higher education than a cooperative model that will improve public higher education in New Orleans.

The proposal has all the elements of a hostile takeover of SUNO: break up the target; sell off valuable assets; change operating procedures; and raid its cash reserves. The break up involves elimination of the library, student center, and many academic programs at SUNO, tearing down SUNO’s historic south campus and selling the land to raise money to buy land on the south side of UNO’s main campus to build a new NOHEC campus.

Changes in operating procedures include new admissions standards and creation of joint admissions and counseling centers to track students through a maze of new courses and programs available to select students from each college. The raiding of cash reserves involves re-direction of what’s left of $92 million in federal aid to SUNO granted since 2005, including $32 million in federal grants secured by SUNO in 2009 to re-build the original campus. Our concerns about this matter are serious enough that the proposed consortium should be re-framed as a hostile takeover, and we oppose such a takeover.

An Historically Black College Is Undermined:

The break-up of SUNO deprives New Orleans of an historically black college that has stood for decades as a beacon of opportunity for local residents. SUNO is part of the Southern University system, Louisiana's Historically Black Colleges and University (HBCU) system founded in 1880 when there was little public education available for Black people. SUNO was established in 1956 when Louisiana public education was still legally segregated. It also serves as an anchor of Pontchartrain Park, the first housing sub-division in New Orleans designed for Blacks.

While legal segregation in education and housing has ended, Louisiana still does not have equal access to either quality education or housing. Indeed, in a city that was two-thirds Black before Katrina, only 24% of UNO students are Black.

The NOHEC proposal leaves SUNO with a new north campus that offers “a limited number of degree programs,” has no library, student center, or recreation facilities. Such a campus hardly retains its separate academic integrity. Absorbing SUNO into UNO and Delgado means fewer African Americans will have access to higher education in Louisiana.

Demolition of Rebuilt Homes:

The NOHEC proposal states that SUNO’s original Pontchartrain Park campus will be torn down and sold. Proceeds of that sale will be used to acquire new land south of the UNO main campus where the new NOHEC campus will be built. The proposal goes on to state that these land transactions will benefit revitalization of both the Gentilly and Pontchartrain Park neighborhoods.

The proposal to redesign public higher education institutions in New Orleans would actually have a disastrous impact on a largely residential neighborhood located adjacent to the UNO Main Campus that has been substantially rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina. Known variously as Burbank Gardens and St. Anthony, this part of the Gentilly neighborhood is bounded by Leon C. Simon Drive on the north, Elysian Fields Avenue on the east, Robert E. Lee Boulevard on the south, and the London Avenue Canal on the west. Comprised mostly of residential duplexes, it once served as officers’ housing for the Naval Air Station that occupied the current UNO site during and following World War II.

Ravaged by major flooding during Katrina, this neighborhood has largely rebuilt over the past four and half years. These homes, along with four businesses on Elysian Fields Avenue, and the New Orleans Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control office make up the site – all of which likely face demolition under the NOHEC proposal.

Area residents interviewed responded with disbelief regarding proposed plans for their neighborhood. Several remarked that they have worked hard to re-build their homes – and want to stay. While university officials state that there is a glut of housing available, relatively few are duplexes and none are nearby.

Neighborhood Statistics – Preliminary visual survey method

A visual survey of the area was made April 26, 2010 by K. Brad Ott, Masters of Arts Candidate, Department of Sociology, University of New Orleans. Questions or comments welcome:

201 lots with homes before Hurricane Katrina
154 houses repaired and occupied (permanent electric meter inspection)
13 houses undergoing restoration
13 houses unrepaired or just gutted
20 vacant lots
129 of the total are two family (duplexes) repaired and occupied
10 of the total are two family (duplexes) undergoing renovation
7 of the total are two family (duplexes) unrepaired or just gutted
4 businesses (3 of which are repaired, with 2 in operation; 1 unrepaired).

Summary of Objections to NOHEC Proposal:

We have serious questions about proposed changes in admissions standards and procedures at all three schools.

The consortium raises admissions standards at UNO and SUNO, which makes them less accessible, and it tracks less well qualified students to Delgado. Prospective students will be directed to the appropriate “campus” and courses by new joint admissions and counseling services.

Recent reductions in counseling services at UNO make us skeptical that adequate funding will be available to serve these students. We also wonder which programs will be available and which programs will not be available for students tracked into SUNO and Delgado.

We are also skeptical that “some renovation dollars” can transform Bienville Hall on the UNO campus into anything close to a respectable complex for SUNO and Delgado administrators to run the NOHEC campus.

The question of how to pay for the NOHEC consortium returns us to the issue of raiding assets after a hostile takeover. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano delivered a $32 million federal aid program in August 2009 that she said was put together for SUNO and which underscores a commitment to re-build the Pontchartrain Park campus. What will happen to these funds under the NOHEC plan? What will become of the SUNO library and five other buildings that are under renovation, and that we are supposedly obligated to repair, not demolish? This includes the old and new science buildings, the Clark Education Building, and the Multi-Purpose Student Center on the original SUNO campus. Will these assets be re-directed to NOHEC?

We conclude that, while serious discussion is desirable about how best to reform higher education in Louisiana, the NOHEC proposal is not an appropriate path to follow. It amounts to a takeover of SUNO by UNO and presents too many unanswered questions to benefit Delgado.

Save UNO Coalition contacts: Jessie Jacobs:; phone: (608) 332-5947, Vern Baxter:; phone: (504) 280-7312.

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