The search committee tasked with finding a potential new leader for the Southern University System hopes to have recommendations for the system board next month.

The search panel, which includes representatives from the board, faculty, students and alumni, met for the first time Wednesday and outlined a speedy process for naming Southern System President Ronald Mason’s replacement: Seek applications and recommendations for two weeks. Review résumés. Conduct interviews in early December. Make a recommendation at the board’s Dec. 12 meeting.

The group isn’t using an outside search firm, and all applicants’ names will be public.

“We’re gonna have to work harder, but I believe it can be done,” said the Rev. Joe Gant, chairman of the search committee. “It’s incumbent upon us to get a leader to lead this ship.”

The Board of Supervisors decided in August not to extend Mason’s contract past June 30 — a move that followed months of infighting and at least one board member calling for Mason’s immediate resignation.

Mason had sent a letter to board members, informing them he wouldn’t even seek or accept an extension, unless certain terms were met.

Some, including Mason, have suggested that the Southern University System merge its president and flagship campus chancellor positions, as LSU has done, but this search committee is only looking for a new president, Gant said.

“That’s my focus now — to deal with this under what our structure currently is,” he said. “Maybe the board, in its wisdom, will decide to do something else at a later time, but that’s not what we’re dealing with.”

Longtime finance administrator Flandus McClinton Jr. is serving indefinitely as acting chancellor while the system board weighs its options for moving forward.

The Southern University Law Center chancellor’s contract will expire next year. The board gave Freddie Pitcher a six-month contract extension through June and granted a similarly shortened extension to SU Agriculture Chancellor Leodrey Williams.

Gant said he believes the Southern system should focus on filling the president’s role before addressing the three chancellor openings because he wants the new system leader to have input in filling those positions. “Some people, by their nature, will never work together. I think that’s a fact,” he said.

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.

Southern University is facing significant financial struggles after repeated state budget cuts have significantly reduced its state funding. The university anticipates a $7 million shortfall for the fiscal year that began July 1 and already has been dipping into its reserves. Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus and two others recently failed to meet the benchmarks outlined in the state’s 2010 GRAD Act and are barred from increasing tuition to bring in more money and face additional restrictions. Higher education leaders say SUBR is unlikely to meet next year’s GRAD Act benchmarks, as well.

Leon Tarver, a member of the Southern University System board who served as system president from 1997 through 2005 and is serving as vice chairman of the search committee, expressed some hesitation during the Wednesday meeting about the speedy process for finding a new system leader.

“This is a huge decision for someone to make, to apply for this post,” he said.

Gant said he’s not worried, and he will be willing to push back the time frame if the committee doesn’t feel that it has a qualified applicant pool.

“It’s important to me that we get this work done,” he said. “I’m serious about this.”

Ultimately, the hire will come down to the system board, though.

“We are only here to make a recommendation,” Gant said. “The board can accept what we bring or reject it and completely pick somebody else.”

He said he ideally would like to have three candidates to present to the board for consideration.

The job listing will be posted to Southern University websites in the coming days. The committee expects to take applications from Friday through Dec. 1.

Because no search firm is being used, as Southern University has done in the past, all applications will come to the system’s main office and immediately become public records, per the board’s attorney.

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