Mississippi Students And Professors Protest Merger Plan

Compiled By Yaffa Klugerman
November 23, 2009

University leaders and students in Mississippi are speaking out against a recent proposal to merge several of the state's historically black colleges and universities.

Early last week, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour proposed that Mississippi University for Women merge with Mississippi State University, while Mississippi Valley State University and Alcorn State University become part of Jackson State University. The move is expected to save $35 million, which would help address the state's expected $715 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2011.

"Mergers of universities are preferable to closures," explained Barbour in a letter to legislators that was quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education, "but continuing to fund eight self-standing universities is not a responsible use of taxpayers' money."

University officials fear that merely voicing the proposal will hinder efforts to recruit students and raise money, reports The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi. "This kind of publicity puts a kink in what we're trying to do," said Donna Oliver, president of Mississippi Valley. "It certainly doesn't help us any."

Alcorn State President George Ross added that news of the proposal was hampering the school's ability to recruit several senior-level staff members. Claudia Limbert, president of MUW, also expressed concern about the plan.

"I think this is a moment in Mississippi's history when we need higher education more than ever," she told the Clarion-Ledger. "We need to add, not take away."

Some legislators remarked that they did not expect the proposal to be accepted. The Jackson Free Press reports that some lawmakers expressed concern that the merger would restrict students' access to educational programs. Others noted that HBCUs offer an inexpensive option for minority students who wish to pursue higher education.

Meanwhile, several hundred protesters gathered to rally against the proposal at the State Capitol on Friday. At the event, which was organized by the NAACP chapters on the university campuses, many pointed out that HBCUs should not be forced to pay a disproportionate price for the state's financial shortfalls.

"The Governor can see whatever he wishes to say," said Senator David Jordan, who spoke at the rally and was quoted by WLBT, "but the bottom line is with the Mississippi Legislature, and we will cross a desert, and fight a fire to keep these universities open."

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