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July 02. 2014 10:34PM

SNHU, NH Institute of Art merger talk creates anxiety for some

MANCHESTER — Students and instructors at the New Hampshire Institute of Art worried that the culture of the downtown college would be overshadowed, if not lost, if it merges with the larger Southern New Hampshire University.

“I don’t think you can write culture into a merger agreement,” said Charles Walla, a Mont Vernon resident who takes classes at the Institute. “When you sign an agreement, you lose control,” he said at a town hall meeting in the school auditorium Wednesday night.

Howard Brodsky, a board member of both SNHU and the Institute, said that SNHU President Paul LeBlanc realizes that the Institute would have to maintain its culture. He said it would become a fourth separate unit at the university, alongside its 4,500-student campus, its 39,000-student online program and its competency-based College for America.

The meeting, which drew fewer than 100, was run by Richard Strawbridge, the Institute of Art’s interim president and executive vice president.

A decision on whether to move forward is expected by Sept. 1.

The vice chairman, Skip Ashooh, said the deadline was established by trustees, who have to decide whether to move forward with a merger or with their search for a new president.

Officials stressed that no decision had been made. They say discussion between both schools are ongoing.

“We’re not dating. We’re not engaged. We’re not married. We’re just trying to understand what it’s about,” said Phyllis Stibler, an Institute trustee.

College officials said the deal would provide the Institute with access to SNHU’s extensive marketing program, which has representatives across the country who could help boost enrollment for the Institute, which has about 470 students.

It has course offerings the Institute lacks, as well as music and theater programs that Institute students might appreciate.

Massachusetts resident Maureen Wall said her daughter is attending the Institute next fall, and a theater program would be nice.

She likes the promise of innovation that the merger might offer.

“We have a chance to create something that’s never happened before,” she said.

Several instructors and staff worried about their jobs. But Strawbridge said the Institute would retain its autonomy and its office staff, and SNHU estimates 400 people would have to be hired in the first year of a merger.

“There’s no intention of getting rid of anybody. We’re going to need all we can get,” Strawbridge said.

Sean Beavers, an adjunct art instructor, said Institute art students submit portfolios and desire a career in art.

He feared SNHU students would look at art classes as an easy credit.Another instructor, Lindsay Coats, said she recently embraced a student from Texas who was excited about starting this fall at the Institute. The student gave the graduation speech at her high school, but she is also dyslexic.

Such as student could not survive in the online course mentality of SNHU, she said.

“I cannot see how they would be able to succeed in a course that does not have a one-on-one relationship,” she said.Tom Adams, a student, called on trustees to release any documents involving a merger.

He also said the merger discussion couldn’t come at a worst time — in the summer with a Sept. 1 deadline.

“I’d like to see this thing slowed down,” he said.

mhayward@unionleader.com


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