The Southern University leadership is expected to finalize a budget Thursday — with additional cuts and staff layoffs — after the Southern Board of Supervisors rejected Tuesday a request to declare a financial emergency on the campus.
The Louisiana Board of Regents delayed Southern’s budget deadline, which had already been extended, until Thursday because the board had counted on the declaration of an emergency, called financial exigency.
Southern also sent out a memo to unclassified administration and staff informing them that they must take 22 days of furloughs this school year — mandatory time off without pay — because of the university’s budget problems.
More than four weeks of furloughs equates to a roughly 10 percent loss of pay for unclassified employees making $30,000 or more.
Southern Chancellor James Llorens declined further comment until the budget is finalized.
But Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr. said the lack of exigency will make it harder for the Southern campus to properly evolve for the future.
“The budget needs to be strategically restructured instead of continuously punted,” Mason said Wednesday. “It will (now) take a much longer period of time.”
The question, Mason said, is whether the university can restructure before it hits a wall financially.
“We’re pretty close to the wall,” he said.
Declaring exigency would have allowed the administration more leeway and expediency 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.
Many Southern faculty, alumni and students opposed exigency, arguing the harm would outdo any good.
More than 60 percent of the tenured Southern faculty signed voluntary agreements to accept 10 percent furloughs as well. But the Southern administration said 90 percent participation is required to offset the financial problems.
That is why additional cuts are being finalized.
But Southern Faculty Senate President Sudhir Trivedi said Thursday that they will continue to work to reach the 90 percent goal. About 75 tenured faculty members have not yet volunteered.
“We need to regroup, strategize and decide how we can reach our goal,” Trivedi said.
Having a large group of faculty not volunteer “demoralizes the faculty who did sign,” he said.
Tenured faculty cannot be furloughed without exigency unless they voluntarily agree.
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.
Southern faculty also have pushed for Mason and Southern System employees to take 10 percent furloughs — even though the system office has a separate budget — and for the main campus to reduce its “pool costs” to the system.
Mason had agreed to take furloughs if 90 percent of the faculty took voluntary furloughs.
“That didn’t happen, obviously,” Mason said.
Now, he said it remains an option, but he is not stating anything with certainty.
“Given the needs of the Baton Rouge campus, we’re going to have to look at everything system-wide,” Mason said.
Llorens and Mason also have acknowledged the budget shortfall could grow once the final enrollment numbers are in.
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 officials expect that number to dip further — possibly even by a few hundred more — once the final numbers are realized at the end of the week.
“We’re watching those numbers everyday,” Mason said. “That’s a critical revenue item.”