Amid concerns over an ambitious goal of finding a new system leader by the end of the year, the Southern University System Board of Supervisors has decided to put its presidential search on hold.
During a meeting in New Orleans on Friday, the board voted 10-4, with two members abstaining, to delay the search until Jan. 9.
A search committee recently had been formed to nominate a replacement for current system President Ronald Mason in December, but faculty, alumni and others said they worried that the quick turnaround would not be successful. The job was first posted Nov. 7, and applications would have been due by the end of the month.
“We’re choosing a system president — not a secretary,” Faculty Senate Vice President Albert Samuels said during Friday’s meeting. “We allocate more time to filling civil service vacancies than the time that would be allotted to choose a system president, according to this process.”
When the search panel met last week to begin reviewing names, only one person had applied. There also were three incomplete nominations.
Some had speculated that an impending turnover on the board and in the board’s leadership was driving the pace.
At least five board members’ terms are set to expire at the end of the year — Darren Mire, of New Orleans; Walter Dumas and Murphy Bell, of Baton Rouge; Myron Lawson, of Alexandria; and current board Chairwoman Bridget Dinvaut, of LaPlace. The governor could reappoint them, as has been done in the past, or there could be new board members with the new year.
The board voted 9-4 against offering Mason a one-year contract extension in August. Mire was absent, but the other members whose terms are nearly up voted against Mason, whose contract expires June 30, 2015. At least one board member and the Faculty Senate have called for Mason’s immediate resignation.
The Faculty Senate last week approved a resolution urging the board to delay the search process, name an interim president before the end of the year and place Mason on sabbatical for the rest of his contract.
“We should have an interim in the meantime,” said Faculty Senate President Tom Miller.
The Rev. Joe Gant, who chaired the search committee, mounted an unsuccessful attempt Friday to keep the search on track.
“Are we supposed to sit still and do nothing until Dec. 31?” he asked. “We have a void of leadership right now. We have a vacuum.”
Board member Tony Clayton, who pushed for the delay, said he wanted the new board to be able to participate in the search, because the new leader will be serving under it.
“We’ll have a new chair and vice chair — we may have new board members,” Clayton said. “Whoever becomes president has to have buy-in from all entities.”
Leon Tarver, a board member and former system president who will serve as board chairman beginning Jan. 1, was serving on the search committee but also supported the delay.
Tarver said the search committee should be more broad-based. The search committee was primarily made up of board members, and during a recent meeting, some people, including the head of the Staff Senate, argued the board wasn’t inclusive enough.
“I think the entire Southern community deserves a right to participate,” Tarver said.
He said the search should be restructured to include more voices.
Before delaying the search, the board had been asked to set aside nearly $38,000 from the cash-strapped system’s budget to fund the process of finding a new leader. The committee’s spending plan included $5,000 for committee members’ travel, $5,000 for “hospitality” and $3,000 to visit the applicants’ employers, among other expenses.
“I think it’s irresponsible,” Clayton said. “That’s a lot of money that we don’t have to give to this committee.”
Gant had argued that it was a bargain, compared to the last search that yielded Mason, which cost the system nearly three times that amount.
“A budget does not mean you’re going to spend everything that’s allocated,” he said.
Gant said he felt that a quick process was necessary to start building the system’s leadership. Southern University System also is in the market for three chancellors, but Gant and others wanted to have a new president in place before tackling the other administrative hires.
“If we put this on hold until January’s meeting, by the time we retool it up, it will be the end of January, early February before we get going again,” he said. “We talk about time constraints, but during that time, we’ll have to have a search for a new president and new chancellors.”
Some, including Mason, have suggested that the Southern University System merge its president and flagship campus chancellor positions, as LSU has done, but the board has never taken a formal position on it.
Board members on Friday repeatedly raised the issue, wondering whether the search should be for just a president or a dual president/chancellor.
“We haven’t yet made that decision,” said Clayton, who supports merging the roles. “Why pick a president if we are just going to come back to say, ‘Well, we want a president/chancellor?’ ”
Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.