MUW merger plan: State wouldn’t see savings until 2012


Jason Browne



Merging Mississippi University for Women with Mississippi State University in 2011 will save $35 million ... in 2012.


As expected, Gov. Haley Barbour recommended in his Monday budget proposal the two state universities be merged to save on administrative costs.


He also recommended Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State be merged with Jackson State. But the governor admits an estimated $35 million savings won''t appear until 2012.



"The mergers would not achieve significant savings in Fiscal Year 2011 as they take time to plan and implement," Barbour''s proposal reads. "These savings can''t be achieved in FY 2012 if the decisions are not enacted in the FY 2011 budget."


MUW President Claudia A. Limbert was not impressed.


"As for the governor''s proposal ... no explanation (is) provided of merger details (nor) clear evidence that merger would result in significant savings for the state. A merger would have a negative impact on the community, region as well as state," Limbert said in a statement released by MUW Monday evening.


The Mississippi Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning meets Wednesday and Thursday and may or may not discuss Barbour''s proposals. MUW''s proposed name change -- to Reneau University -- is not on the agenda.





Merger DOA?


"I think it''s really going to be dead on arrival," said Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, of the governor''s merger suggestions. "The college and universities committee chairman (Rep. Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs) already indicated as much. The bill would be going through him and his committee. If he doesn''t want it, it''s dead.


"There may be a little interest on the senate side. If the house already made up its mind it''s not going to take it up, we need some more proposals."


Chism believes a proposal to move the Mississippi School of the Arts from Brookhaven to the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science campus at MUW also will be ignored.


Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, remains open to the possibility of a merger and said "everything''s on the table" from the Senate''s point of view.


After speaking with Barbour Monday, Brown said the governor is open to alternative ideas. The Mississippi Department of Transportation is a prime candidate for budget cuts, he said.


"I think the department of transportation is totally out of control. There could be some massive cuts in it," said Brown, who agreed a merger between MUW and MSU will take time to produce savings. Yet, Brown isn''t making any predictions as to what will happen.


"I don''t know how to project it. I think other proposals will come up," he said.



Student concerns


The majority of MUW students polled Monday believe merging MUW and MSU would cost the school tradition, but may be necessary for MUW to survive. Others believe a merger would have more tangible consequences.


Savanna Johnson, a junior communication student from Lebanon, Tenn., said she chose MUW from a nationwide list of schools due to its small size and intimate nature.


"I would be heartbroken. (A merger) would definitely affect our school. If we merge, I''ll transfer," said Johnson.


Johnson fears a merger would increase class sizes at MUW, reduce the number of faculty and force her to retake classes if departments are closed or consolidated.


Dima Kushner, a sophomore accounting major from Belarus, said the MSU moniker will increase the value of his degree. But he concedes a friend of his who preceded him at MUW is now working at one of the country''s most prominent hospitals.


"(A merger) is probably better just for the name. At least the recognition of State is better than The W," he said.


A member of MUW''s Student Government Association who asked to remain anonymous said a merger could bring more classes and students to MUW, which could lead to several unused dorms being renovated and filled, as well as bring more sports and activities to campus.


"We lose a lot of guys because of (a lack of) sports," he said.


Rebecca Jones, a junior nursing student from Columbus, is concerned MUW''s social clubs and traditions may be lost in a merger, but would rather merge with MSU than see the school''s name changed to Reneau University, the name chosen by the school in August. The name change now waits on approval from the College Board and Legislature, both of whom seem to be distracted from the issue for the moment.


Other students are less concerned with tradition and identity and more focused on the bottom line.


"I don''t care as long as I get my nursing license," said Bonny Coleman, a freshman nursing student from Hatley.



Other proposals


Barbour''s education proposals also called for:



  • A reduction in public school districts from 152 to around 100, citing the current system as a "model of inefficiency." The governor intends to appoint a "blue ribbon commission" in December to create criteria for merging the state''s lowest performing districts. He predicts this will save the state $65 million.


  • A one-year suspension of STEP annual salary increases for teachers. Suspending the program for one year will save $18 million, according to Barbour.


  • A 12 percent reduction in Mississippi Department of Education''s vocational and technical funding for an estimated $10 million in savings. Barbour plans to develop a federal waiver so Mississippi can continue receiving Perkins Career and Technical Education funds.


  • Sweeping changes for the state''s 15 community and junior colleges. Barbour is calling for a single administrative organization to oversee all 15 schools, elimination of some satellite campuses and a reduction in the nearly $20 million spent annually on athletic programs.






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