The group that hopes to find a new leader for the Southern University System is pushing forward with its quick search process, despite concerns that have been voiced by faculty members, alumni and even some members of the search committee itself.
The search committee’s timeline spans slightly more than a month. The goal is to have a new leader named by the end of the year, but only one person has applied for the job to date.
During a meeting Friday, several people questioned whether the ambitious turn-around will be a success at the cash-strapped historically black university system.
“We need to think about the process and how it’s being perceived in the wider community,” said Faculty Senate Vice President Albert Samuels, a political science professor. “We cannot rush this process.”
The terms of at least five members of the Southern University System Board of Supervisors are set to expire at the end of the year — Darren Mire, of New Orleans; Walter Dumas and Murphy Bell, of Baton Rouge; Myron Lawson, of Alexandria; and Bridget Dinvaut, of LaPlace. The governor could reappoint them, as has been done in the past, but Samuels said the presidential search process is being driven by a fear that a new board could be formed that would attempt to reappoint current System President Ron Mason.
“That’s the elephant in the room,” Samuels said.
The board voted 9-4 against offering Mason a one-year contract extension in August. Mire was absent, but the other members whose terms are nearly up voted against Mason, who has become a polarizing figure since he took on the role in 2010. His contract expires June 30, 2015. At least one board member and the Faculty Senate have called for his immediate resignation, and some have suggested he could be ousted early by placing him on an administrative leave if a new leader is found.
Still, Leon Tarver, a system board and search committee member who previously served as system president, also said he isn’t so confident in the quick push to find a replacement.
“I don’t know if there’s sufficient time,” he said. “Our timeline is extremely compressed.”
Nevertheless, the committee is forging ahead.
“Everybody wants to kick the can down the road,” said the Rev. Joe Gant, chairman of the committee and a member of the system board. “I think we need to keep pressing on with our charge and keep moving forward.”
So far, just four names have been submitted for the job — three nominations and one complete application. Southern University Alumni Federation President Preston Castille, who is serving on the search committee and was nominated by an alum, said he doesn’t plan to apply.
The other two nominees — University of North Carolina at Charlotte urban education professor Chance W. Lewis and Langston University President Kent Smith — would have to submit formal application packets to be considered. Both are Louisiana natives who have degrees from Southern University, according to their nominations.
The lone official applicant for the position, Kamal Dean Parhizgar, is a management and business ethics professor at Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas. According to his application materials, he decided to submit his name for the job because of his expertise in university administration.
Gant said he believes more people will apply as the Nov. 30 deadline approaches. He said three people have told him they plan to apply but are waiting until closer to the deadline, essentially as a strategic move. Because the committee isn’t using a search firm, the applications fall under the open records law once they are received.
The Advocate this week obtained copies of the information submitted so far through a public records request, though one of the nominations was omitted by mistake.
“I don’t think you will find a search that has been more transparent than the one we are conducting,” Gant said.
The job has been advertised in local media, as well as through The Chronicle of Higher Education and Diverse Issues, and a website was created last week to promote the position and the process.
As president, Mason is paid $374,000 a year, plus an annual $16,000 vehicle allowance and $36,000 yearly housing allowance. The next president likely would receive a similar compensation package.
The search committee expects to meet Dec. 3 to review candidates and select finalists for interviews, which will be held Dec. 8-10.
After the president search is completed, the Southern system immediately will be in the market for several campus chancellors.