NEW ORLEANS — The Southern University Board of Supervisors on Friday unanimously voted one of its newest members — lawyer Bridget Dinvaut, of Reserve — as its new leader during a meeting prior to the annual Bayou Classic.
“I truly appreciate the outpouring of support. I pledge to work hard and to do what’s in the best interests of our institutions,” Dinvaut said.
Gov. Bobby Jindal appointed Dinvaut to the board in February. She is the assistant district attorney for the St. John the Baptist Parish District Attorney’s Office.
The board oversees Southern campuses in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Shreveport, as well as a law school and an agricultural center.
Dinvaut steps into the chair’s seat on Jan. 1, replacing Chairman Darren Mire, of New Orleans.
Mire is credited with presiding over the board during transformational times, including Southern’s Baton Rouge campus declaring a financial emergency in October 2011, a push to offer more online courses and becoming the first of Louisiana’s four public college system’s to declare itself 100 percent tobacco free.
After the meeting, Simsboro Mayor Willie Hendricks and Murphy Bell, of Baton Rouge, described some behind the scenes back-and-forth the past several weeks among board members positioning themselves to become the next chairperson.
But neither Hendricks nor Bell wanted to discuss what arguments were raised or which board members were vying for the chairperson’s seat. Both described Dinvaut as “excellent.” Hendricks, who nominated Dinvaut during the meeting, said he supported her because of her track record on following through after giving her word and her ability to make tough decisions.
Former two-time board Chairman Tony Clayton said he started pushing for Dinvaut to run for chairperson in October.
“She has the innate ability to get things done. She’s the type of person you want fighting for you,” Clayton said.
Picking a vice chairman proved more problematic. A bid to install the Rev. Samuel Tolbert, of Lake Charles, to the position stalled on an 8-8 vote. Board member Patrick Bell, of Thibodaux, became the new vice chairman shortly afterward on a 9-8 vote in which there was some initial confusion over how student board member Marc Guichard voted.
Patrick Bell replaces Murphy Bell as vice chairman.
The board also voted to give Southern’s School of Architecture a 90-day reprieve. Southern University at Baton Rouge Chancellor James Llorens said the architecture program could be on the verge of elimination as its enrollment and graduation rates have plummeted in recent years.
A plan to keep the program going by moving it to Southern University New Orleans has stalled after an executive with the National Architectural Accrediting Board, known as the NAAB, indicated that accreditation wouldn’t be transferred from Southern’s Baton Rouge campus to SUNO.
Faculty Senate President Thomas Miller and School of Architecture Dean Lonnie Wilkinson argued that the accrediting board has not definitively said accreditation couldn’t be transferred.
Miller noted that the program has graduated 91 black students since 2001 — more than any other school in the state. Miller, who is white, called it “an important program for the African-American community.”
“I would not stand here before this board and ask for an extension unless I believed the possibility of transferring accreditation from one institution to another is real,” Miller said.
Wilkinson added that he should have more time to finish discussions with the NAAB.
Associate architecture professor Archie Tiner Jr., said that School of Architecture faculty have been trying to move the program to SUNO for 20 years, noting that New Orleans has a better market for emerging architects.
“The New Orleans market is just more robust. Three of our graduates operate major firms here in New Orleans,” Tiner said.
Should the NAAB ultimately decide that accreditation can’t be transferred between campuses, Llorens said he’s prepared to recommend Southern’s architecture program be eliminated.