The LSU Agricultural Center will not seek to declare a financial emergency this year after its chancellor said last month such a decision was “likely.”
AgCenter Chancellor Bill Richardson said Wednesday that he does not want to create greater “long-term” problems in exchange for the quicker budget fixes that declaring an emergency, called exigency, would allow.
“With exigency, the big thing really is breaking contracts and getting into tenure issues,” Richardson said.
“This (exigency) will be a tough thing to defend if you get into some legal exposure,” he added.
All LSU System campuses, including the flagship Baton Rouge campus, are finalizing budget cuts and spending plans.
Richardson has blamed the financial problems on $26 million in direct and indirect budget cuts in more than two years — without having the ability to increase tuition as can colleges with students.
Richardson said the exigency issue was not a bluff and that it will be revisited if there are additional budget cuts in December or January.
Exigency is generally considered a black eye for an institution that scares off current and potential faculty.
The AgCenter will have a hiring freeze and additional cuts to programs and research stations will start being finalized in the coming weeks, Richardson said.
He would not give further details.
After announcing exigency as a possibility, Richardson said he met with LSU System officials and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s acting chief of staff, Stephen Waguespack, but that he was not pressured by them.
LSU System President John Lombardi declined an interview request, but in an email response he credited Richardson and his team with making “heroic efforts” to find the necessary budget adjustments without laying off tenured faculty.
“At the moment they have found ways to reduce programs and expenses that do not require a declaration of exigency,” Lombardi stated. “The governor and the Legislature helped greatly this year. It will take continued support and a recovered economy to continue as they have planned.”
The LSU AgCenter last declared exigency for a period after Hurricane Katrina.
Apart from researching crops production and cattle and the like, the LSU AgCenter’s research and services include everything from fighting coastal erosion to biotechnology research with chickens for pharmaceutical development.
In April, the AgCenter announced the permanent phase-out and shutdown of its Calhoun Research Center near Monroe, the Rosepine Research Center in Vernon Parish and the Coastal Area Research Station in Plaquemines Parish, which used to be the citrus station.
Budget cuts played a part, Richardson said at the time, but the “skeleton staffs” at the stations made it logical to shut down three of the AgCenter’s 20 stations and, eventually, save about $750,000 in overhead.
Richardson said the AgCenter has eliminated 328 positions — 27 percent of its workforce — in three years, although some of the jobs eliminated were vacant. The number includes 82 people who took advantage of incentive retirement plans.
The AgCenter has received $15 million in direct budget cuts thus far, lowering its total annual budget to about $97 million, counting self-generated revenues from fees, contracts and grants.
But the AgCenter also lost another $11 million in “unfunded mandates” that the state sometimes funds in areas such as insurance, health-care and retirement cost hikes.