Southern University Chancellor James Llorens said Thursday he may again request that the college declare a financial emergency because of ongoing budget problems.
Partly because of disputes over voluntary faculty furloughs, Llorens said the Southern Board of Supervisors may reconsider the emergency request, called exigency, when board members next meet Oct. 28.
“I think a number of board members have observed the situation that’s occurred with the furloughs,” Llorens said.
Llorens had initially said at least 90 percent of the faculty needed to voluntarily accept furloughs — time off without pay — of 10 percent of their annual earnings in order to balance the university budget without exigency.
Only about 60 percent of the faculty volunteered and the Southern Board still rejected exigency. Llorens then began implementing the furloughs for 60 percent of the faculty. But several balked because some said they believed the furloughs would only go into effect if the faculty was united.
About 20 of the faculty members asked to withdraw their agreements before they were handed over to the chancellor, but Llorens said they are irrevocable even if he does not have them in hand. Others also have asked to rescind their agreements.
Llorens cited the “inequities and disparities” in the furlough numbers as an ongoing issue.
Southern Faculty Senate President Sudhir Trivedi went further, threatening to file a lawsuit on behalf of the faculty who want to withdraw their agreements.
“We tried to do something graceful and noble, but I think we created a monster,” Trivedi said Thursday at a Faculty Senate meeting. “I do not support the furlough experiment anymore.”
Declaring exigency would allow the administration more leeway and expediency to lay off tenured faculty, mandate furloughs 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.
Last month, the Louisiana Board of Regents delayed approving Southern’s annual budget — while signing off on the budgets of every other college in the state — because of concerns about exigency, furloughs and long-term budget problems.
Some Regents said Southern probably should have declared exigency for the year in order to make the needed long-term fixes. “I think the Board of Regents was basically just trying to send a message that they don’t want to see us in this situation again,” Llorens said.
“We’re probably in the most dire straits, but we’re not the only university in dire straits,” Llorens said, noting that state budget cuts for higher education are a problem for everyone.
Southern faculty senator Diola Bagayoko said he fears the Southern Board will declare exigency this month because of the ongoing furlough issues.
“Then the disastrous consequences will occur,” Bagayoko said, citing the damage to Southern’s reputation and the university’s already diminished student enrollment.
The Southern Faculty Senate also met Thursday with Louisiana Association of Educators, called LAE, teachers union representatives to consider unionizing the Southern faculty. No decisions were made.
LAE Executive Director Michael Walker-Jones said the Southern faculty would have been united from the start if there was a strong union, rather than all the faculty having to operate in isolation when deciding on whether to accept the furlough agreement.
The LAE also has unionized with some LSU faculty in LSUnited and is beginning a new union with Baton Rouge Community College faculty, Walker-Jones said.