The Southern University Board of Supervisors will again consider declaring a financial emergency Friday for the main Baton Rouge campus.
Southern Chancellor James Llorens and Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr. made the request to declare the emergency, called financial exigency, a late addition to the meeting agenda.
They did so under the argument that staff layoffs did not save as much money as expected and that a voluntary faculty furlough plan ended up as a mess. They said exigency is needed to address recurring money problems and more quickly reorganize the university for the future.
“It’s all about the ability to strategically restructure the budget as a way to stop the downward spiral and start back on a positive track,” Mason said in an interview.
The university has suffered through state budget cuts and significant student enrollment losses the past few years.
In September, the Southern Board fell three votes shy of approving exigency, but four of the 16 Board members were absent at the time. Lots of faculty, students and alumni spoke out against declaring exigency at the time.
Declaring exigency would allow the administration more leeway to lay off tenured faculty and ax academic programs.
Exigency is historically 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.
Mason said he does not know if the Southern Board will approve the exigency request.
“It is a highly emotional issue,” Mason said. “It is an extraordinary step. It is a tough call to make, but it is a necessary step.”
Southern Board Chairman Darren Mire did not respond to phone messages Thursday.
Southern University Alumni Federation National President Dennis S. Brown said Thursday he remains opposed to exigency, but will listen to the proponents’ arguments.
“It’ll be interesting to see how they explain it,” Brown said.
When word spread Thursday that exigency was added to the agenda, Southern Faculty Senate President Sudhir Trivedi sent out a faculty email saying the Faculty Senate will consider a “vote of no confidence” against Llorens the next time faculty meet.
Former Southern Chancellor Kofi Lomotey resigned last year shortly after a Faculty Senate “no confidence” vote. Llorens became the chancellor in July.
“I’m asking the faculty to fight this (exigency) at all costs,” Trivedi said Thursday.
He said it is completely “misguided” for the administration to contend that exigency will improve Southern.
“Exigency means educational bankruptcy,” Trivedi said. “It is going to repel future students. It is going to repel faculty. …This looks like a recipe for disaster for the institution.”
He argued that exigency is not needed for the university’s academic reorganization. Doing so just allows the university to terminate faculty a year sooner.
Southern was initially 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.
Trivedi said a major decision like exigency should not be made on the 2 percent of the overall budget that $1.7 million represents.
The administration had said at least 90 percent faculty participation in the furloughs — mandatory time off without pay — was needed to avoid exigency. But less than 65 percent volunteered and when the Board voted exigency down, the furloughs remained in place only for those who volunteered.
When additional faculty did not volunteer and a small majority were left with pay cuts, some faculty asked to withdraw their furlough agreements, only to be told by Llorens they were irrevocable.
Llorens wrote in his letter requesting exigency this week that the furlough “inequities” have created problems.
“It has created discord among the faculty and has led to threats of legal action,” Llorens wrote.
“I believe the Board failed to approve it (exigency) because they believed there would be a greater effort from the faculty to participate in the voluntary furlough,” Llorens said in an interview. “It just so happened the opposite happened — a number of them tried to withdraw.”
The president of the Louisiana Conference for the American Association of University Professors, Alvin Burstein, on Monday wrote Mason a letter arguing that Southern may be violating its own bylaws by not considering more alternatives to exigency.
Southern was on “censure” by the AAUP — the nation’s top professor organization — for years until 1987 when Southern adopted more policies consistent with AAUP standards, Burstein wrote.
Trivedi said declaring exigency likely will get Southern back on the AAUP’s censure list.