Faculty complaints are stalling the implementation of fully online degree programs at Southern University System campuses, but the system’s president said they are moving forward with the expanded online emphasis.
The Southern University of New Orleans Faculty Senate already has opposed faculty participation in the programs, and the faculty leadership of the main Baton Rouge campus is expressing similar concerns about alleged intrusions in academic freedom.
Southern Faculty Senate President Sudhir Trivedi said the university system is failing to go through the proper faculty curriculum design processes to ensure the degree programs are thorough and stringent once transferred entirely online.
“We are not against doing online degrees,” Trivedi said. “But it’s not as easy as just saying, ‘Put them online.’
“We are doing everything under the table.”
Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr. said the faculty claims are “just wrong.”
“All academic decisions are made by the faculty,” Mason said. “It really is just an online format of what’s offered in the classroom.”
Late last year, Southern contracted with for-profit Education Online Services Corp., or EOServe, of Florida, to deliver the online degree programs using the existing offerings and faculty from the Southern campuses in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Shreveport. Mason previously teamed with EOServe when he was president of Jackson State University.
The project — gotosouthernuniversityonline.com — is intended to increase revenues and help Southern attract more out-of-state and older, nontraditional students who are currently the niche of more-expensive for-profit universities like the University of Phoenix.
“We want to be the HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) online option,” Mason said. “The truth is a lot of these for-profit online colleges have many students who started at HBCUs and dropped out.”
The initial academic programs, advertised as exclusively online options, are bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education, criminal justice and general education. The Southern Board of Supervisors on Monday also approved moving forward online with the bachelor’s degree in nursing and the executive masters of public administration.
“But none of them was fully developed,” Mason said, noting SUNO faculty opposition. Mason said he is hopeful the two degrees approved Monday will be ready in May. “We’re moving but, in these startup operations, you never move as quickly as you want to.”
The SUNO opposition was led by Faculty Senate President Joseph Bouie, who is a former SUNO chancellor and has cited concerns in violations of faculty rights and academic integrity, unrealistic revenue projections and negative financial effects on students. The online programs will charge all students the more-expensive out-of-state tuition. Southern’s Baton Rouge campus currently charges out-of-state students about $6,540 per year, compared with roughly $5,130 for those from Louisiana.
“The bedrock of successful HBCU matriculation is a nurturing environment, via quality education programs and face-to-face interaction,” Bouie wrote to Mason. “A strictly online venue negates HBCU pillar and efforts to ‘develop Southern University as the online HBCU brand’ contradicts the role, scope and mission of an HBCU. There is nothing (EOServe) offers that SUNO cannot do for itself given appropriate resources.”
Trivedi criticized Mason, who has a law degree without a traditional college administrator’s academic background, for trying to force his plans through the faculty.
Mason calls it “bizarre” that the faculty are opposing academic programs they already control.
Considering SUNO’s existence was threatened through a merger proposal by Gov. Bobby Jindal last year, and the Baton Rouge campus is operating under a financial emergency, Mason said it makes little sense for the faculty to oppose plans that will boost Southern’s reach and bottom line.