The Southern University Board of Supervisors on Tuesday defeated an effort to declare a state of financial emergency on the flagship Baton Rouge campus.
The Southern Board voted 6-6 — three votes shy of the nine needed — after days of faculty, alumni and students speaking out against approving such an emergency, called financial exigency.
The vote forced new Southern Chancellor James Llorens to begin additional staff layoffs late Tuesday, because the extended deadline for the submission of the university budget was the end of Tuesday.
The Southern Board had already twice delayed the vote on exigency.
“We’ll be looking at basically every non-faculty job on this campus,” Llorens said after the vote. “I was somewhat surprised. I believed we presented our case as for the need for financial exigency.
“It’s going to make our task much more difficult,” he said.
Declaring exigency would have allowed 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 Southern Board vote also will leave Southern staff, administrators and most faculty with 10 percent furloughs this year — mandatory 10 percent of their job time off without pay, Llorens said.
About 64 percent of the tenured faculty agreed to voluntary furloughs to help avoid exigency, but the roughly 75 tenured faculty members — out of about 210 — who did not sign the agreements will not have to take furloughs unless they agree to do so in the coming days.
Southern Faculty Senate Vice President Thomas Miller said faculty members who volunteered were warned that they might be taking temporary pay cuts while some of their colleagues who refused to sign would not.
Llorens and Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr. had said at least 90 percent of the faculty needed to accept furloughs in order for them to withdraw their exigency request.
Llorens and Mason have argued that exigency was needed as the last resort to make the necessary long-term university fixes so the same problems do not arise every year.
Southern political science professor Albert Samuels was among those who warned that exigency could be the end of Southern with Gov. Bobby Jindal and Republicans working against them.
“Last year they went after SUNO,” Samuels said. “Next year they will try to dismantle the entire Southern University System. They will try to use financial exigency as the case that the Southern System no longer needs to exist.”
Southern was facing a $10 million budget shortfall — half from state budget cuts and the rest from Southern’s enrollment losses and internal failings financially — and the goal was to cut the final $1.7 million through faculty furloughs.
A university that once had more than 10,000 students enrolled more than 7,300 students last year.
Southern’s budget is based on a projected enrollment of 7,000 students this fall, but Llorens said he expects that number to dip further — possibly even by a few hundred more — once the final numbers are realized at the end of the week.
That would require a budget adjustment to enact even more budget cuts in the coming months, Llorens said.
Southern Board member Pat Magee, of Lafayette, was again the one who pressed the vote for exigency. “For way too long Southern University has kicked the can down the curb and said, ‘Let’s just exist,’ ” Magee said.
Southern University Alumni Federation National President Dennis S. Brown was among those who argued Tuesday that alumni oppose exigency. “We are strongly against any financial emergency being placed on this institution,” Brown said.
Southern Board member Myron Lawson, of Alexandria, led the fight against exigency at the board meeting, eventually authorizing Llorens to make the additional cuts necessary.
“Southern has not lost its substance,” Lawson said. “Southern still is a strong institution.”
Southern Staff Senate President Toni Jackson “tentatively” backed exigency, arguing that there were no other alternatives without turning to more massive staff layoffs.
But Southern Student Government Association President Demetrius Sumner, who also has a vote on the Southern Board, said he decided to oppose exigency because of the “students’ overwhelming rejection” of it.
Southern Board members who voted for exigency (6): Vice Chairman Murphy Bell, Patrick Bell, Chip Forstall, Pat Magee, Ann Smith and Eamon Kelly.
Those opposed (6): Rev. Samuel Tolbert, Myron Lawson, Calvin Braxton, Walter Dumas, Demetrius Sumner and Chairman Darren Mire.
Not present (4): Tony Clayton, Patrick Jefferson, Willie Hendricks and Randal Gaines.