SHREVEPORT — Southern University leaders said Thursday that a declaration of a financial emergency for the main Baton Rouge campus is needed this week in order to create a “Renaissance SUBR.”
The Southern Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote Friday on whether to declare such an emergency, called exigency, for the flagship Southern campus.
The panel on Thursday discussed finances during its annual board retreat in Shreveport.
New Southern Chancellor James Llorens has insisted the only way to avoid exigency was for the faculty to voluntarily sign off on 10 percent furloughs — time off without pay — and shorter job termination notices.
Some faculty members said Thursday they would still support the 10 percent furloughs, but not the enhanced administrative authority to cut academic programs and lay off tenured faculty that was allowed in Lloren’s proposed agreement.
“It was written to make it impossible for any faculty members to sign,” said Diola Bagayoko, a Southern physicist and faculty senator, who argued “emphatically” that 90 percent of his colleagues would have agreed to furloughs alone.
“I think 90 percent is ambitious,” Llorens responded to board members, claiming that many faculty members opposed pay cuts of any kind.
Declaring a financial emergency 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.
Tenured and tenure-track faculty cannot be furloughed unless they voluntarily accept the pay cuts or if financial exigency is approved.
Llorens said the furloughs would be a one-year temporary measure to balance the budget so the university can be right-sized through academic program eliminations and the consolidation of some of Southern’s colleges and schools. That means laying off some faculty, deans and administrators, he said.
The restructuring plan will be presented in November, Llorens said.
“We are in a period of transformation,” he said. “We have been offering the same academic programs for the past 30-40 years.”
Such fixes would require faculty, who are laid off because their academic program was eliminated or consolidated, to be actually out of the job — and off the payroll — by the end of the school year, he said. That is why the shorter termination notices are needed, he said. Tenure or tenure-track faculty typically requires a one-year termination notice.
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 have argued that $1.5 million saved in faculty furloughs should not break the back of a $78 million overall campus budget.
Facing a $10 million budget shortfall — half from budget cuts and the rest from Southern’s enrollment losses and internal failings financially — dramatic changes are needed, Llorens and Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr. said.
“There are things that have to get done before we can get going,” Mason said.
“To some extent, we’ve been spending money we don’t have on things we want, but don’t need,” Mason said. “The only way we can balance the budget is with the declaring of financial exigency.”
Llorens said that next year he plans to implement a true “First Year Experience” program to improve the retention of freshman students. He said he will start a new “student leadership academy” as well.
Llorens also wants to begin offering more degrees online. Currently, Southern only offers one master’s degree online.
Southern must beef up its continuing education, including its certification programs for working adults to draw more people to the university, he said.
Staff development also must improve in order to avoid having angry students and parents each year through the tedious registration and financial aid processes, he said.
Southern is in its third year of reduced funding from state government. The university has been affected by budget problems more than most colleges because Southern also has lost revenue from its declining enrollment.
A university that once had more than 10,000 students now enrolls more than 7,300 students.
Three years ago, the university budget was $92 million and now it is down 15 percent, according to the university. State funding is down 40 percent, but that has been offset somewhat by increasing annual tuition to more than $5,000 now.
Southern is losing about $5.5 million this year through state budget cuts and the “unfunded mandates” of increased health-care and retirement costs, according to the budget proposal.
But deficits in Southern’s athletic department, laboratory school, scholarships and tuition waivers push the total problem to nearly $10 million, the budget states.
The university has saved $6.3 million by axing 129 positions on campus through layoffs, early retirement programs and eliminating vacancies, according to the budget presentation.
On top of the anticipated furloughs, Southern’s budget also includes delaying the pay raises for faculty promotions from last year and this year.