August 25. 2014 11:08PM

With SNHU merger on hold, search renewed for NHIA president

New Hampshire Union Leader

MANCHESTER — The search is back on for a new president at the New Hampshire Institute of Art, as talks of a merger with Southern New Hampshire University are tabled.

NHIA board of trustees decided last week to reopen the presidential search and remain independent after hearing from many students opposed to the prospects of a merger during a public forum. Administrators from both schools agreed more discussion was needed and put off the merger, which could have taken place as early as Sept. 1.

“It’s been very clear to the board the passion the students have for the institution and what it means to them,” NHIA interim President Richard Strawbridge said Monday. “The decision was made to slow down a little bit.”

The trustees met last week and agreed to resume the presidential search, which had been put on hold in July, and go forward with a five-year strategic plan.

A merger between NHIA and SNHU is still possible, but more discussion is needed, Strawbridge said.

“At the same time we’ve been considering the option, we’ve been working on own strategic plan,” said Strawbridge, who is a candidate for the permanent job. “We think we can use the large degree of interest of students, faculty and everyone else to help make that plan bear fruit.”

The board has detailed options for the future and the five-year plan in a statement sent to faculty, staff and students on Friday.

“If we are to go it alone, we must implement a concrete plan for meeting yearly enrollment targets over the next five years. Otherwise, we face inevitable compromises in the institute’s service to our stated mission,” the board said.

One of the main issues NHIA faces is attracting more students. Monday was the first day of classes. Strawbridge said enrollment was around 450 undergraduates and 50 graduate students.

To cover basic costs without having to raise tuition costs, Strawbridge said overall enrollment needs to increase to about 650 within the next five years.

Strawbridge has been interim president since Roger Williams retired last fall after 12 years of leading the institute.

Strawbridge said he believed a partnership with SNHU would still benefit the school, but NHIA student and faculty want to make sure the downtown campus retains its cultural identity.

SNHU President Paul LeBlanc said Monday he agreed that the NHIA board made the correct call by forging ahead with a five-year plan and holding off, at least for now, on a potential merger.

“There is no urgency about this for either party,” he said. “We will continue the discussions in a measured way and see where we are.”