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Southern University's New President Talks Diversity

courtesy Southern University

There’s a new president of the Southern University System, and he’s looking at the system’s struggles from a new perspective.

“We can make a difference. We should be making a difference,” says Dr. Ray Belton.

Belton, who previously served as chancellor of Southern-Shreveport before taking on the combined duties of system president and chancellor of the Baton Rouge campus three weeks ago, has ideas about making Southern more inclusive.

“We’re talking about how we can work together to bring about some good for our community.”

But Belton doesn’t define “community” as exclusively African-American.

“We are historically a black university, but I think, more importantly, we need to be a diverse institution that embraces everyone,” he told the Baton Rouge Press Club Monday.

Regarding the universities’ financial struggles, Belton stopped just short of saying there has been too much whining about higher education cuts falling disproportionately on Southern.

“All the institutions across the state have been impacted by challenges with finances. But for some reason – and I think it’s been self-imposed, somewhat – we are being defined by our struggles,” Belton said. “Our faculty keeps asking, ‘What are you going to do?’, and I keep reminding them it’s about what we’re going to do.”

Belton noted that capitalizing on what they already do -- like offering law school to part time students -- is the way to grow Southern’s effectiveness and enrollment.

“Expanding our law school is being considered. We’ve got a request for a feasibility study that may well provide for the law school to establish an evening program in Shreveport, or Lake Charles.”

He said Southern must look beyond what it has traditionally been and done, to what the system can offer everyone.

“We have infrastructure to support on-line instruction,” Belton noted. “But I also think there is an opportunity to host more adult learners, and allow people to obtain baccalaureate and graduate degrees in a quicker fashion.”

He said they will be analyzing the undergraduate programs now offered throughout the system, to see what programs can be expanded to graduate-level degrees not available anywhere else in the state – and determining if they can be made available on-line.