The Southern University Faculty Senate voted unanimously Thursday to oppose a proposed agreement to voluntarily accept furloughs and shorter job termination notices.
The vote came a day after new Southern Chancellor James Llorens said he “likely” will ask to declare a financial emergency next week unless nearly all of the faculty agree to the two key requests.
Declaring a financial emergency, called exigency, allows the administration more leeway to lay off tenured faculty and axe academic programs. Exigency is generally considered a serious blemish that could scare away current and potential employees and students.
“We’re standing the line on both of those,” Llorens said again Thursday, before hosting a faculty forum to discuss their concerns.
“I wanted to avoid any type of financial emergency at all costs. It is the last choice. It’s the last resort. But that’s where we stand,” Llorens said at the forum after the Faculty Senate vote.
Llorens said he understands faculty frustrations and joked that he was told he should get a bodyguard on campus.
Southern Faculty Senate President Sudhir Trivedi said more cuts can be made in administrative expenses and that the maximum $2.2 million that could be saved through furloughs should not be the dividing line on declaring exigency.
“This administration has not done its homework,” Trivedi said. “That is akin to burning the building for killing a fly.”
Southern faculty received this week “voluntary furlough and program discontinuance” agreements to sign. The wording includes furloughs equaling 10 percent of their annual pay for all Southern employees.
A furlough is required time off the job without pay.
Tenured and tenure-track faculty cannot be furloughed unless they voluntarily accept the pay cuts or if financial exigency is approved next week by the Southern Board of Supervisors upon Llorens’ request.
The agreement still allows exigency to be declared.
“It (the agreement) is a backdoor way of having the faculty allow financial exigency,” Southern history professor Eva Baham said.
Llorens said the furloughs would be temporary. Structural changes and program cuts made in the next few months should be long-term. Such fixes would require faculty who are laid off because their academic program was eliminated or consolidated to be out of the job by the end of the school year, he said. That is why the shorter termination notices are needed, he said.
Tenure or tenure-track faculty typically require at least a one-year termination notice.
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.
Faculty also complained Thursday about the university subsidy that helps the struggling athletic department increasing by $625,000 this year, even with student athletic fees increasing this fall.
Llorens said the athletic department must improve and increase its revenues. But he said the extra subsidy is needed for now.
“If we eliminate athletics, I shudder to think about the impact on enrollment,” he said.
Southern is in its third year of reduced funding from state government. The university has been affected by budget problems more than most colleges because Southern also has lost revenue from its declining enrollment.
A university that once had more than 10,000 students, now enrolls more than 7,300 students.
The university budget is slated for final approval at the Aug. 26 Southern University System Board meeting in Shreveport. The board also most approve the exigency request, if one is submitted.
While many students waited in long lines outside on a hot day Thursday to finalize their financial aid, the Faculty Senate also approved a resolution seeking to form a task force to study improving the university’s enrollment of new students, including recruitment, admissions, registration, financial aid, housing and more.
Southern faculty members complained that failures in those areas have contributed significantly to the enrollment problems.
Kamran Abdollahi, an urban forestry professor, said students do their banking and much more on the mobile phones.
“Yet, when they come to Southern, they have to stand in long lines under the hot sun,” Abdollahi said. “We are seriously deficient, and we have to admit that.”
Despite a new online registration system up and running this year, Llorens said, many students waiting in the long financial aid lines did not realize they could have done the work online. That longstanding problem will not occur again, he said.
“We didn’t do a good enough job of getting that information out to them (the students),” Llorens said. “It’s a communications problem.”
Incoming Southern freshman Taylor Petitt, of Houston, left the financial aid line after 1 p.m. Thursday after she was told she would have to reschedule because of the crowds.
“I’ve been in line since 6:30 a.m., and I still haven’t been seen,” Petitt complained.