NEW ORLEANS-- Talk of a possible merger with nearby UNO stirred deep passions at a Wednesday morning meeting, organized by the SUNO student government and the school's alumni association.

'We as students have to fight. We have to fight,' said SUNO student Bryan Braneon, Jr.

Chants of 'SUNO today! SUNO forever!' filled the campus gymnasium, as several hundred people vowed to fight any efforts, which may lead to the merging of that school with UNO.

'This is the only place where a 35-year-old, non-traditional student-- who walked away from college, being a 19-year-old knucklehead-- can come back and earn his degree!' said Rev. Anthony Jeanmarie, a SUNO student.

SUNO and Southern University System administrators also spoke out against any merger. They gave their first major public comments, since Governor Bobby Jindal ordered a study to see the feasibility of combining the two schools.

'We have fought hard. It's hard work,' said SUNO Chancellor Dr. Victor Ukpolo. 'We have done what everyone asked us to do, working with the local community, working with the public school system.'

Last week, Gov. Jindal said, given the current financial climate in the state, a merger needs to be discussed.

'The bottom line is this needs to be about students, not politics,' Gov. Jindal said. 'You have two institutions and they are right next door to each other. At SUNO, you've got a graduation rate at only five percent. You've got two institutions that aren't even using their buildings 50 percent of the time.'

However, administrators are taking issue with Gov. Jindal's assertions regarding SUNO's low graduation rate. They say it stands at more than nine percent, not five percent. Either way, SUNO's Chancellor said Hurricane Katrina threw the numbers out of whack.

'You can not use the normal six year period to judge their performance,' Dr. Ukpolo said. 'When Katrina came, many of those students went away. We could not bring them back here.'

University officials also said SUNO's buildings remain woefully under-used because a number of them remained closed because of flood damage. They have not been repaired, despite the fact that FEMA allocated $96 million to the state for that purpose.

'We have a university that does not have a library,' said Southern University System Board of Supervisors Chairman Darren Mire. 'We right now are operating a university, talking about graduation rates-- and students can not do research in the library. We have classes in trailers.'

Meanwhile, SUNO students and alumni plan to hold a rally next month in New Orleans and another in April at the state capitol. In addition to the planned rallies, the Southern University System Board will hold a special meeting at SUNO on February 4th at 9 a.m., to vote on a resolution against any potential merger.

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