BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) _ Gov. Bobby Jindal added a black doctor from Baton Rouge to the Board of Regents on Wednesday, hoping to answer criticism about a lack of diversity on the panel that oversees public higher education.
Jindal announced the appointment of vascular surgeon Albert Sam II to the board with little fanfare, in a sparse news release that included no details about how the governor made his selection.
“His academic credentials and passion to improve our higher education system for the people of Louisiana will make him a welcome addition,'' Jindal said.
Sam replaces Roland Toups, a 14-year member who resigned this week under pressure from the governor's office to make room for a minority board member. Toups said Jindal asked him to leave the board.
Regents Chairman Bob Levy didn't immediately comment on Sam's appointment Wednesday, saying through a spokeswoman that he hadn't yet been notified of it by the Jindal administration.
The board shake-up comes as Jindal and the Regents have been sued by a group of Southern University students who are opposing the study of a possible merger between Southern's historically black New Orleans campus and the largely white University of New Orleans.
The lawsuit claims the Regents board is unconstitutional because its appointed members were all white. The 16-member Regents board had one black member, a student representative, in a state where one-third of residents are black. All nine gubernatorial appointees named by Jindal had been white, until Sam's appointment to replace Toups.
The Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus also has criticized Jindal as excluding blacks on high-powered boards and commissions, an accusation Jindal denies.
A district judge refused to block the SUNO/UNO consolidation study while the lawsuit continues its way through the courts. A lawyer for the Southern students, former state Sen. Cleo Fields, is appealing that decision.
Fields and the students say Jindal violated a state constitutional provision enacted in 1998 that said the Regents “should be representative of the state's population by race and gender to ensure diversity.''
Jindal requested the Regents board to study a possible SUNO/UNO merger, saying it could improve educational possibilities for students. The two schools are blocks apart, have low graduation rates and are still recovering from the impact of Hurricane Katrina more than five years ago.
The merger study, being done by a Colorado-based consultant, is due next week to the Regents. The board will make a recommendation to the governor and lawmakers for consideration of proposed changes during the regular legislative session that begins in April. Any merger would require approval from state lawmakers.
Sam's appointment requires confirmation from the Louisiana Senate. Sam, 44, works as chief of vascular surgery at Baton Rouge General Medical Center. A call to Sam's medical office was not immediately returned Wednesday.
While most of Jindal's appointees to the Regents board are campaign contributors, a review of the governor's campaign finance reports does not turn up any donations from Sam.