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Barbour might not be so crazy after all

November 18th, 2009 Comments off

Once you start asking around about Gov. Haley Barbour’s proposal to merge three Mississippi universities into two others, the more you realize that it likely will never happen.
That’s not to say that the idea that the Mississippi University for Women merge with Mississippi State University, and for Alcorn State University and Mississippi Valley State University to merge with Jackson State has no merit.
I think everyone recognizes the financial condition the state is in.
Even Democrats in Mississippi know that something has to be done.
“He is simply thinking outside the box and looking for new and innovative ways to save money. We should not be critical of that,” said Democratic representative David Norquist of Cleveland. “Having said that, however, I personally do not think that mergers and consolidation are the answer, and I cannot support his position.”
Understood.
But off the campuses of Alcorn, MVSU and MUW, the distaste for mergers and consolidation might not be as noticeable.
We know that folks have been tossing around the idea of higher education mergers for nearly 30 years, maybe more.
So, let’s take away the possibility that Barbour has some grudge against historically black colleges and universities. Let’s take away the possibility that Barbour has a grudge against women.
Why then might he be willing to take action with ASU, MVSU and MUW?
Performance.
All three schools have lost significant enrollment from their high points in the last 15 years.
• Alcorn has lost 8.5 percent to its current total of 3,339.
• MUW has lost 21 percent from its high in 1998 to it current total of 2,478.
• And Mississippi Valley has lost 20 percent from its high in 2003 to its current total of 2,819.
Sure all three schools serve a special niche and have a special mission, but to look at the enrollment numbers of the last 20 years, there are wild ups and downs and lots of volatility.
All of that suggests a lack of stability and leadership, which could have led Barbour to believe that while being able to save money with mergers, he might also be creating a better environment to learn.
The other small college in the equation is Delta State University, which Barbour did not identify for change. A look at its enrollment shows a positive change of just 37 students between 1990 and 2009, which is remarkably stable.
Barbour, without regard to race or gender, has chosen three schools for mergers where the recent past has been anything but firm.
Certainly, this debate is more complicated than an analysis of enrollment, but there have to be people willing to think outside the box.
And, while he may have a hard time getting this through the legislature, it isn’t as if Barbour pulled this scenario or idea out of thin air.

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The only surprise is in the details of the university mergers

November 16th, 2009 Comments off

I think, at some level, no one was shocked at Gov. Barbour Monday when he said the state should consider merging some of its universities to save money.

Barbour said Mississippi University for Women should merge with nearby Mississippi State University and that Alcorn State University and Mississippi Valley State University be merged into Jackson State University.

Barbour said none of the campuses would close but the proposed mergers would save money by reducing the number of administrative jobs.

The proposed change would leave Mississippi with five public universities rather than the current eight.

Barbour’s consolidation proposal would have to be approved by lawmakers. It is part of his suggested budget for the fiscal year that begins next July 1.

Having said all of that, the basic question is how is this going to get done, or more appropriately, will this get done?

University consolidation has been a topic for nearly 30 years, but this is the first time it has gotten the vote of the highest office in the state.

The first surprise in the announcement is Alcorn State. It is a land grant university and Barbour admitted that merging it with Jackson State might have some road blocks.

The second is that a combination of Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn would be merged with Jackson State. Certainly, as I write this, folks are lining up to consider the racial implications of, what amounts to, closing two historically black universities.

I don’t think anyone is surprised at the mention of merging MUW in with Mississippi State. Just from a geographic standpoint, the idea has merit. The schools are 20 miles away from each other and MUW has had a problem with declining enrollment for more than 20 years.

Similarly, MVSU and Alcorn have lost substantial numbers in enrollment in recent years, which, I am sure, is part of the reason Barbour chose them.

Barbour basically shrugged his shoulders and gave Mississippians an opportunity to come up with a better idea during his press conference.

I am sure there will be lots of screaming and wailing in Columbus (MUW), Lorman (Alcorn) and Itta Bena (MVSU) claiming to have better ideas.

The new few months will be very interesting.

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Courtroom tweeting not a distraction

November 10th, 2009 Comments off

From law.com last week, I read a recent ruling that would ban reporters tweeting from the courtroom.
In United States v. Shelnutt (M.D. Ga. Nov. 2), a federal court in Georgia ruled that Rule 53 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure prohibits “tweeting” from the courtroom and that Rule 53 does not unconstitutionally restrict freedom of the press.
Rule 53 states that the “court must not permit the taking of photographs in the courtroom during judicial proceedings or the broadcasting of judicial proceedings from the courtroom.” The Shelnutt court found that “broadcasting” includes “sending electronic messages from a courtroom that contemporaneously describe the trial proceedings and are instantaneously available for public viewing.” The court stated that it “cannot be reasonably disputed that ‘twittering’ … would result in casting to the general public and thus making widely known the trial proceedings.”
The immediate result of the court’s decision, according to law.com, is to reject a request from a reporter for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer that he be allowed to use his BlackBerry during the Shellnut criminal case in order to send updates to his newspaper’s Twitter feed. However, as Turkewitz observes, the temptation to report on trials via Twitter is something that will now likely present an issue for numerous courts.
“This is a bad ruling,” according to Marc Cohen, a colleague of mine from Minnesota Lawyers Weekly. “The “anti-broadcast” rules are to keep court proceedings from being disturbed by the presence of the “broadcast” media, not to keep the proceeding from becoming public (which it already is). The reporter who tweets is doing nothing more than he/she would be permitted to do (under the First Amendment) with pencil or paper.
“Under this interpretation of the courtroom broadcast rule, it would still be permissible for one reporter to be in the courtroom writing notes, and then passing them to someone else directly outside the courtroom who Tweets them,” Cohen continued. “What’s the logic in that distinction?”
I would have to agree.
Until and unless we are willing to eliminate all forms of note taking, asking reporters to give up their iPhones and Blackberries is going too far.

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I don’t want no Democrat coroner touching my dead body

November 5th, 2009 Comments off

The reason for party affiliation in local politics, particularly in Mississippi, serves no purpose whatsoever.

The only thing I can figure is that it gives the people holding office an opportunity to rub shoulders with state and national politicians. Otherwise, there are very few issues on the local level that hold any importance in regard to political affiliation.

All local candidates are for education. They are for police and fire protection and good roads.

There is no political dividing line on those issues.

So, when a bunch of elected officials showed up in Jackson to announce their intentions to switch to the Republican Party, it made me scratch my old bald head.

There was a sherriff, a district attorney, a supervisor, a justice court judge, a constable, an alderman and a coroner.

Forgive me, but what in the name of Sam Hill does politics have to do with these positions, particularly in rural Simpson County?

Is there anyone out there that is concerned about the party affiliation of the local coroner?

“Hey honey, if I start to have a heart attack, make sure to take me to the next county, because I don’t want no Democrat coroner working on my dead body”

Give me a break.

Then there are judges.

Judges of any kind shouldn’t have political affiliation. Isn’t that a given?

And when supervisors are getting potholes filled in your area, make sure the Republicans get their roads fixed first; is that the way it works?

The recent announcement by the Simpson County officials is weak and self-serving, at best.

At worst, it shows they are worried more about political affiliation rather than serving the people of their community.