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August 16. 2014 6:47PM

SNHU, NHIA set to merge, public still concerned


New Hampshire Institute of Art building on the corner of Pine and Concord streets in Manchester. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER - Monday might be the last opportunity for public input regarding an education discussion that's caused major push back from the local arts community.

At the beginning of the summer, Southern New Hampshire University announced that it was exploring the option of merging with the New Hampshire Institute of Art. A series of public forums were scheduled to hear community input about the merger, with a promise that a decision and details on the merger would be made available on or by Sept. 1.

On June 16, both organizations entered into an official Memorandum of Understanding that laid out their plans to discuss a merger. The memorandum states that a merger with SNHU and NHIA would "enhance SNHU's academic programs and particularly its interest in developing fine arts degree programs," as well as "enhance the quality of the fine arts education that NHIA provides for its students."

Merger discussions have garnered criticism from the NHIA community, particularly from students and former and current employees. Many are concerned that a merger would not only lower the value of an NHIA degree in the larger arts community, but that, eventually, NHIA may become known - either officially or unofficially - as the "arts department" of SNHU, rather than its own fine arts accredited institution.

Trustees from both institutions have said these fears would not be realized. SNHU President Paul LeBlanc has been present at merger public meetings, along with the board of trustees,­ to answer questions and listen to concerns.

Because there is no formal plan that has been made public or finalized, it is unclear what the exact details of the merger would be and if the concerns of the NHIA community will be taken into account.

The final public hearing on the merger will take place on Monday at 5 p.m. in the French Building, located at 148 Concord St.

abeland@unionleader.com


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