MANCHESTER — Officials with the New Hampshire Institute of Art and Southern New Hampshire University have agreed to put off an immediate decision on merging the institutions in the face of questions and criticism from students, faculty and supporters of the art school.
More than 250 people filled the auditorium in NHIA's main administrative building on Monday for a public forum on the merger talks, which were disclosed by school officials in June.
A proposed memorandum of understanding would have had the much larger SNHU absorb NHIA as a distinct unit, alongside its 4,500-student campus, its 39,000-student online program and its competency-based College for America. The MOU called for the execution of an agreement by Sept. 1.
But Richard Strawbridge, the Institute of Art’s interim president and executive vice president, told the audience on Monday that members of the art school community made it clear that more time was needed.
“Obviously with everything that’s taken place we both agreed that’s not a reasonable date,” he said, standing alongside SNHU President Paul LeBlanc. “We know we have a lot of work before we can get there. We plan to do an evaluation in a manner that is sensitive and appreciative of every one of you here.”
Several of the students who spoke at the forum expressed concerns that the culture of NHIA, which has about 470 students, would be adversely affected by the merger with SNHU, a private university that broadly markets its programs. They also criticized the way the NHIA administration and its board of trustees had responded to their concerns.Brittany St. Pierre, a photography student, said she had submitted a petition against the proposed merger to the NHIA administration.
“We gathered signatures from well over twice the people who go to the institute. We worked very hard on making our points and sending it to the board. The response was we were nameless, faceless entities,” she said to applause.
SNHU’s Paul LeBlanc insisted the university wanted to preserve the unique character and culture of NHIA and help it grow by using SNHU’s marketing and financial resources.
He also emphasized his own personal commitment to and belief in the value of the creative arts.
“We could build our own arts program, but we want this,” he said. “We want to be part of this culture.”
Not everyone at Monday’s forum was opposed to the merger.
Jim Burke, the chair of NHIA’s illustration department, said an affiliation with SNHU would help ensure the art school’s future and growth.
“I think of NHIA as an unknown gem in Manchester,” he said. “What I see is the potential for this to become an international university.”