Southern University faculty leaders are working to convince at least 90 percent of their colleagues to accept a voluntary furlough plan to avoid the declaration of a financial emergency on the campus.
The Southern Board of Supervisors has scheduled a 1 p.m. Friday meeting to consider such an emergency, called exigency, because of mounting budget and enrollment problems at the university.
The Southern Faculty Senate approved a tweaked plan Thursday that would allow for faculty furloughs this academic year and next, if deemed necessary.
But Southern Chancellor James Llorens and Southern System President Ronald Mason Jr. say at least 90 percent of more than 270 faculty must individually sign the furlough plan in order to avoid exigency.
Faculty Senate President Sudhir Trivedi acknowledged it is very unlikely that many faculty members will have agreed to be furloughed by the time of the board meeting.
Trivedi said he hopes the Southern Board will recognize the progress the Faculty Senate has made and decide against exigency. More time could then be given for faculty to accept the furloughs voluntarily.
The furloughs — time off with up to a 10 percent loss in annual pay — are intended to avoid exigency and the shorter job termination notices for faculty that Llorens had requested.
Faculty Senate Vice President Thomas Miller said he will not turn in the voluntary faculty agreements until Mason agrees to equal furloughs in his system office.
“I know, and I think we all know that the force behind financial exigency is Ronald Mason,” Miller said. “Ronald Mason is going to rewrite this university if we go into financial exigency, and I don’t want to work at Ronald Mason University.”
Declaring a financial emergency – exigency – allows the administration more leeway to lay off tenured faculty and ax academic programs.
Exigency is generally considered a serious blemish that could scare away current and potential employees and students.
No public Louisiana university has declared exigency since the University of New Orleans did so after Hurricane Katrina.
The furlough plan the Faculty Senate approved Thursday included several small changes to a version that Llorens submitted late Wednesday.
In general, the voluntary agreement allows for 10 percent faculty furloughs this academic year and also for the 2012-2013 year if the Southern administration and staff receive equal or greater furloughs. Employees making less than $30,000 a year would be exempted.
The second year of the furloughs would only go into effect if a joint committee of four faculty members and four people selected by the chancellor agree the furloughs are needed again. The version Llorens had recommended included the subtle difference that the second year of furloughs would only be voided if a majority of the committee agreed.
Despite some discord and faculty arguing, the Faculty Senate supported the plan Thursday without any dissenting votes. Trivedi abstained.
The Faculty Senate previously had failed to agree on a plan during a meeting on Monday.
Then, further divisions occurred when Miller called a Tuesday morning meeting without Trivedi and without alerting the full faculty. Miller said the latter occurred because he did not have access to the full faculty email list.
But the progress made during that meeting helped persuade the Southern Board to postpone the meeting until Friday, Miller said.
“If exigency is declared, some of us will be the reason exigency is declared,” Faculty Senator Diola Bagayoko said early on during Thursday’s meeting.
Trivedi reiterated his plans to seek an injunction in federal court to prevent exigency if the Southern Board agrees to declare an emergency. He said Southern has failed to use exigency only as a true last resort as required by its bylaws.
For the past two years, Southern staff has been furloughed, which amounted to a 4.6 percent reduction in pay. But the faculty was not included.
Southern faculty leaders have argued that $1.5 million saved in faculty furloughs should not break the back of a $78 million overall campus budget.