Black Caucus objects to university closings, mergers

JACKSON – Two key members of the Legislative Black Caucus say they oppose the closing of any historically black university.
House Universities and Colleges Committee Chair Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs, and Caucus Chair Billy Broomfield, D-Moss Point, sent out a joint statement Friday saying they would oppose any university closures or mergers.
During a meeting of the Mississippi Economic Council last week, Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, a Black Caucus member, said university mergers or closings, as well as school district consolidations, should be options as the state deals with its budget problems.
Thus far, however, no plans have moved beyond the rumor stage regarding the closing or merging of the state’s eight public universities.
There are three historically black universities – Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley. In past years, the primary focus of closings or mergers has been on Valley and Mississippi University for Women, the state’s two smallest schools.
But those discussions never got far in the Legislature and efforts to close or merge schools have been almost non-existent in recent years.
Some believe the current budget crisis might spur additional efforts to merge or close schools.
“It is short-sighted for anyone in state government to think that picking on one or two state colleges is a solution to fixing our budget problems,” Buck said. “The problem is much larger and more complex than that.”
Gov. Haley Barbour is developing his budget recommendation for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. He also has said he will have to make additional cuts in the current budget because revenue collections are not meeting projections. He cut $172 million from the budget in September.
Barbour has talked about innovative ways to try to save money during the current budget woes.
Asked if the governor would recommend any university closures or mergers, spokesman Dan Turner said Friday, “A lot of things are being discussed. I don’t know specifically what is on the table. We will probably have a better idea in 10-12 days.”
Broomfield said, “I join an overwhelming number of Black Caucus members in the belief that no university should be closed. We should be trying to enhance the preparation of our young people so they will be able to effectively compete in the marketplace.”

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal