Jackson State University students are organizing a rally on the steps of the State Capitol at 1 p.m. today in protest of Gov. Haley Barbour's recommendation to merge the state's three historically black colleges and universities.
In his Nov. 16 budget proposal, Barbour announced that the state was facing a $715 million budget shortfall in fiscal year 2011 and another $500 million shortage in fiscal year 2012. In addition to merging the state's HBCUs, he suggested many draconian budget cuts in response to the impending shortage.
"This budget proposes merging Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State with Jackson State. No campus would close, but administration would be unified and significant savings achieved," Barbour said in a release, expecting $35 million in savings from the mergers. "Our historically black universities would be united into a premier university with the land-grant agriculture and technical advantages of Alcorn, MVSU's Delta campus and JSU as an emerging great urban university."
Barbour explained that the Alcorn and MVSU campuses would still continue to function, although there would be a "rationalization" of class offerings at the campuses, implying the merger would result in classes and curriculums being cut.
Many legislators and rally organizers do not think the proposal will get very far with the Legislature, however.
"Barbour's proposal was less about the merger of HBCUs and more about what agencies he's going to protect from the cuts, like the (Mississippi Development Authority) and the Mississippi Department of Corrections," said Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson, adding that the Mississippi Development Authority, led by Barbour, is only suffering a 5 percent cut to its budget.
Johnson said the actual job of appropriating funds falls to legislators, however, and said he did not see the House taking the the proposals seriously because of the strength of the Legislative Black Caucus and the attitude of the chairman of the House Colleges and Universities Committee.
Committee Chairman Melvin Buck, D-Holly Springs, told the Jackson Free Press that he would likely not act upon a proposal to merge the universities because consolidation would restrict students' access to many educational programs. A student living near Alcorn, for example, may have to move to Jackson to get a degree in math education, and possibly could not afford the added costs.
Other legislators remarked that HBCUs offer a considerably less expensive education that is important to many minority students. Tuition at the University of Mississippiwhich is not subject to a merger under Barbour's proposalis $5,106 a semester for in-state students, while out-of-state students pay $13,050. A semester of tuition at Jackson State University, comparatively, costs only $2,317 for Mississippi students and $3,362 for out-of-state students.
JSU students voiced their outrage during a similar rally at JSU's student union building yesterday. Johnson said today's rally was still important, despite his belief that the mergers would not get far in the next legislative session.
"The rally today is about students voicing their opposition to the very question of the mergers, that they would even be put on the table," Johnson said. "What we're seeing here are just Barbour's priorities, and educating black children, apparently, (is) not a big priority for him."