The Southern University System has voted overwhelmingly in favor of merging its president and Baton Rouge campus chancellor roles.

The board on Friday also launched a search committee to identify a candidate for the position, but opted not to hire a national search firm to conduct the search.

The position merger will take effect July 1.

The move comes as state colleges and universities brace for steep budget cuts in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Officials have estimated that higher education funding could be cut by up to $400 million across all systems.

Southern University System leaders said the move to merge the top two leadership positions on campus would demonstrate a willingness to be more efficient, but there was little discussion before the 14-1 vote in favor of the positions’ consolidation.

Preston Castille, president of the Southern University Alumni Federation, said he has watched for several years and noticed a battle and duplication between the administration building’s third floor, where the campus administrative offices are located, and the fourth floor, where the system offices are located.

“Frankly, I think that while there may be a crisis and a political storm, the idea is long overdue,” he said. “If we were to continue along this path, it would continue to hurt us.”

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