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As the boards of trustees discuss a possible merger between New Hampshire Institute of Art and Southern New Hampshire University, members of the NHIA community are voicing strong concern. Rebecca Fishow (NHIA).




Merges, closures and name changes

A few private higher education institutions in New Hampshire that have gone through major changes since 1999. 
Source: New England Association of School and Colleges closed schools list.
Castle College in Windham closed in 1999.
White Pines College in Chester changed name to Chester College in  2002.
Notre Dame College in Manchester closed in 2002.
McIntosh College in Dover closed in 2009.
Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord affiliated with University of New Hampshire to become University of New Hampshire School of Law in April 2010 and merged/integrated with University of New Hampshire in November 2013. UNH School of Law withdrew from NEASC-CIHE accreditation upon full integration with the University of New Hampshire in April 2014.
Chester College in Chester closed May 2012.
Hesser College changed its name to Mount Washington College in 2013 and is closing its Nashua and Salem campuses in September 2014.




Demanding transparency
NHIA stakeholders in proposed SNHU merger seek explanations

07/31/14



 What started as one conversation between two men and led to the proposal of a merger between Manchester’s Southern New Hampshire University and New Hampshire Institute of Art has morphed into a much bigger conversation among both schools’ communities, including questions over how it would affect the culture and security of both institutions. 

The idea to merge was conceived in April when SNHU President Paul LeBlanc was speaking with NHIA Finance Board of Trustees member Howard Brodsky about the challenges of searching for a new president and the struggles of small  universities, LeBlanc said. 
At the time Brodsky was the chair NHIA’s presidential search committee; he also sits on SNHU’s board of trustees. He asked LeBlanc who he thought could make a good president. 
“That led to the moment where I asked, ‘Would it be crazy to explore a possible merger?’” LeBlanc told the Hippo. “That really was it. The conversation began at that moment. … The board was intrigued enough to explore the idea.” 
The merger could mean benefits for both schools, LeBlanc said. For example, SNHU has been growing in the arts but lagging behind with visual arts, and merging would quickly address that.
NHIA would stay autonomous but could take advantage of SNHU’s good financial health as well as significantly larger recruitment, admissions and enrollment services, he said.
When they’ve approached the board, NHIA faculty, students, staff and alumni have been told the merger isn’t about money. 
“I think the financial status of the school is stable. … But clearly enrollment has declined a little bit as the demand for post-secondary education declines, and that’s systemic across the country,” NHIA Board of Trustees Chairman Joseph Reilly told the Hippo. “So we’re in full compliance with where we need to be, but again, looking out into the future, we need to make a best judgment as to whether or not things will continue to be sustainable.”
On Thursday, July 24, the NHIA Board of Trustees met to discuss its next steps and decide whether or not to extend the Sept. 1 deadline it had set to decide whether the merger will happen. As of July 29, Reilly, who is the designated spokesperson for the board of trustees and the only member speaking about the issue, did not respond to phone calls following the meeting, and the meeting’s details have not been released. 
“There are petitions out there and a lot of questions because of the speed and time frame this is happening,” said Andrew Lucas, gallery director at NHIA. “During the summer, a lot of people aren’t here, and they want this done by September. We find that to be an unrealistic timeframe. and there could be benefits and downfalls, but nobody knows because of the lack of transparency.”
 
Culture shift concerns 
While a few members of the NHIA community have expressed optimism about the merger, other students and faculty members are vocalizing their concerns about how their school’s culture and identity could be lost. 
“My main concern is becoming the art department of SNHU,”  said Abbigail Eva Saffian, a 2012 NHIA graduate and current employee. “I think it will change the kind of students that we get. … As a senior in high school, I didn’t even look into some state schools with art departments because it wasn’t what I was interested in, and I know that’s the case with many that come to the Institute.”
NHIA 2009 graduate Mark Langlois says he enrolled at NHIA because it was small and personal, and he doesn’t want his diploma to be associated with SNHU.
“Our diplomas are essentially going to be looked upon by others in the artist community as cheaper now. SNHU has a reputation for its online curriculum  … and we don’t want to be associated at all with this kind of school,” Langlois said.
LeBlanc said NHIA stakeholders have asked if they would have to go to SNHU’s main campus for various services, if there would be staff cuts and if scholarships available to NHIA students would continue to be offered exclusively to art students. 
LeBlanc’s answers: No, no and yes. 
Broadly speaking, he said, the finances of the Institute would roll up into SNHU and would have the backing of the university at large but would remain a relatively autonomous entity, like SNHU’s College of Online Education and College of America. 
“It’s a model thats very comfortable and allows them not to be subsumed, which I think is one of the big concerns and one I think is unfounded,” LeBlanc said. 
 
Seeking transparency 
Some NHIA stakeholders are concerned the merger is further along than the boards have expressed. They’ve begun questioning what’s going on behind closed doors. 
Some are questioning Brodsky’s participation on both boards, calling it a conflict of interest.   
“How can one of the board members be also a member of the SNHU board?” Langlois said. “How is this even legal, much less correct behavior, or even ethical?” 
According to Reilly, Brodsky’s role in the early stages of discussion has been beneficial, as he was able to provide unique insight into the structure of both schools. 
“What I would say very clearly and not apologetically is, yes, Howard sits on both boards,” Reilly told the Hippo. “We are very aware of and respectful of the fact there is a technical conflict of interests, and when we’re at the time to have formal votes, that issue will be properly addressed.” 
Critics are also skeptical of the manner in which they were informed of the Memorandum of Understanding between the two institutions. 
When the possible merger was announced in the Union Leader and the Concord Monitor, it was the first time most of the NHIA community had heard of it, said Saffian, who is a member of the search committee for the school’s new president.
“The week before this was leaked to the press we had had a search committee meeting … and we had pitched the final candidates and had dates to interview them,” Saffian said. 
Then the search stopped — but there’s been no official word that it’s been put on hold, she said. 
Reilly said the announcement of the MOU came out prematurely while the two boards were in the process of gathering information about each school and before they were able to roll out their own communications plan. 
 
Turning to Facebook
Saffian is the administrator of a Facebook group called NHIA “Potential” Merger with SNHU. 
The closed group is described as a safe place for stakeholders to voice concerns and share information.
Some of its 834 members have been mentioning occurrences they’ve witnessed — people who identified as being from SNHU touring buildings with NHIA’s maintenance staff and SNHU members taking photographs of classrooms full of pre-college summer program students. 
“We don’t know if this is normal protocol to go in and photograph every single classroom,” Saffian said. “I know the gallery director of SNHU has already contacted the gallery at NHIA. … That kind of stuff seems a little [premature] when they haven’t told us what is actually happening.”
When the Hippo asked LeBlanc, he said that some of these occurrences were part of an effort to use due diligence and understand the Institute in depth. Meetings were held between admissions departments, and SNHU’s maintenance staff was surveying the state of NHIA’s facilities. 
As for the contact between gallery staff members, “That would have been on her own initiative,” LeBlanc said. “I’m not surprised, but it’s not actually part of our due diligence. It’s probably a case of an enthusiastic faculty member.”
Indeed, Lucas said, he and SNHU McIninch Art Gallery Director Deborah Disston have been corresponding through emails on their own accord to set up a meeting in August. 
He said he doesn’t see a merger changing NHIA’s galleries because, supposedly, the institute will keep its own identity. 
“I haven’t had my meeting yet, but from what I hear from other departments, SNHU is acting like it’s a done deal,” Lucas said. “But if you ask anyone in NHIA, they say it’s still in early discussion.”
So far, critics are unsatisfied that authorities are mum in response to their letters and calls. 
A petition on Change.org signed by 1,112 people as of July 29 calls for the release of a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding and the minutes of the NHIA and SNHU trustee meetings during which this memorandum was approved. It also asks the board to publish the criteria that will be used to determine whether a merger is the best option for each school and to entertain alternatives to a full merger, along with five other bullet points. 
“We started a petition on Change.org,” Saffian said. “It’s basically ... asking everybody to write letters to board members and the attorney general.”
NHIA is in the process of producing a communication plan that will address many of those concerns and could have some information to release within the next couple weeks, Reilly said.
“We certainly want to be respectful of all appropriate parties, but at end of the day it will be the board that makes the decision, not 972 people who have signed a petition on Facebook,” Reilly said. “We have a very good board of people invested in Greater Manchester and NHIA. … I would say now it is very undetermined, but we signed the MOU with a commitment to go down that path.” 
 
As seen in the July 31, 2014 issue of the Hippo.





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