SHREVEPORT — The Southern University Board of Supervisors decided Friday to postpone until next week a decision on declaring a financial emergency on the main Baton Rouge campus.
The delay gives the faculty until a special board meeting Wednesday to decide whether to voluntarily accept some time off without pay as well as shorter job termination notices.
The furlough policy would be in effect for two years and would mean a loss of up to 10 percent of pay each year.
Southern Chancellor James Llorens said at least 90 percent of the faculty must agree to the furloughs or a financial emergency, called exigency, will still be required.
Tenured and tenure-track faculty cannot be furloughed unless they voluntarily accept the pay cuts or if exigency is approved.
Llorens earlier insisted that the only way to avoid exigency was for faculty to voluntarily sign off on one year of 10 percent furloughs and shorter job termination notices so faculty and academic programs could be eliminated more quickly.
But faculty balked at also supporting the enhanced administrative authority to cut academic programs and lay off tenured faculty with just one semester of notice.
Llorens said faculty agreeing to a second year of voluntary furloughs campus-wide could eliminate the need for exigency and the shorter termination notices he had argued were needed to make long-term fixes more rapidly.
“I believe we need reorganization, but we don’t necessarily need expediency,” Southern Faculty Senate Vice President Thomas Miller said. “It’s a little messier — it might take a little longer — but it certainly can get done.”
After the meeting, Miller said he thinks it is “reasonable” that 90 percent of the faculty could agree to two years of furloughs in the next few days, as long as it is handled properly.
“We’re going to put everything into it,” he said.
“I don’t think anyone wants to declare financial exigency,” Southern Board Vice Chairman Murphy Bell said. “But I think we’re at the last resort.
“The problem with the (one-year) furloughs is it puts us back in the same place next year, and it doesn’t allow us to restructure the campus,” Bell continued.
Without exigency, Llorens said, the university will have to wait until 2013 to finalize necessary faculty layoffs and program eliminations. But a second year of voluntary furloughs could bridge the gap, he said.
Declaring a financial emergency allows the administration more leeway 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.
The agreement to allow faculty to consider two years of furloughs was reached after Llorens, Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr., faculty leaders and five of the 16 Southern Board members met behind closed doors for an hour during a board meeting recess in Shreveport.
No more than four board members were in the meeting at any time.
Southern political scientist and Faculty Senator Albert Samuels said he is afraid the university would not recover from exigency.
“We are declaring to the world that we cannot manage our affairs,” Samuels said. “We will scare away a lot of parents who will not trust us with their students.”
Noting that faculty pay raises for promotions also are being delayed, Samuels added, “I’m getting promoted (this year) and being cut. I feel like I’m being demoted.”
If exigency is decided upon next week, Llorens insisted doing so is not a “death sentence” for the university.
Llorens said the university’s accreditation should not be affected and that student recruitment will be more critical than ever as the university adopts mandatory higher admission standards next year.
“We are not going to ignore our primary missions, which is academics,” he said.
Llorens said the furloughs are a temporary measure to balance the budget so the university can be right-sized through academic program eliminations and the consolidations of some of Southern’s colleges and schools. That means laying off some faculty, deans and administrators, he said.
The restructuring plan will be presented in November, Llorens said.
For the past two years, Southern staff have been furloughed, which amounted to a 4.6 percent reduction in pay. But the faculty was not included.
Southern faculty have argued that $1.5 million saved in faculty furloughs should not break the back of a $78 million overall campus budget.
Facing a $10 million budget shortfall — half from budget cuts and the rest from Southern’s enrollment losses and internal failings financially — dramatic changes are needed, Llorens and Mason said.