The Southern University Board of Supervisors declared a financial emergency on the main campus Friday after months of debating the issue.
The declaration of the emergency, called financial exigency, was made despite opposition from some faculty, students and alumni.
The decision gives university administrators more leeway to furlough and lay off faculty as well as terminate academic programs. In September, the Southern Board fell three votes shy of approving exigency, but four of the 16 Board members were absent at the time. Two members were absent for Friday’s vote.
Southern Chancellor James Llorens and Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr. made the exigency request again. They argued that staff layoffs did not save as much money as expected and that a voluntary faculty furlough plan ended up a mess.
“We all have a vision for a great Southern, building on the tradition of the past,” Mason said. “The one step we have to take is a difficult step, but it’s a necessary step.”
Mason said exigency is needed to address recurring money problems and more quickly reorganize the university for the future.
Exigency is historically considered a serious blemish that could scare away current and potential employees and students. No public Louisiana university had declared exigency since the University of New Orleans did so after Hurricane Katrina.
Llorens said exigency is a “dramatic” step. He argued it is a “small window of opportunity” to reorganize the academic and administrative structure of the university.
All Southern employees making more than $30,000 a year, including tenured faculty, will receive furloughs this academic year amounting to 10 percent of their time off without pay, Llorens said.
He said he plans for the Southern Board to consider his reorganization plan as soon as Nov. 25.
Exigency, which goes into effect Tuesday, runs through June 30.
“We can assure students their education is going to be better by all this,” Llorens said.
Louisiana Association of Educators Executive Director Michael Walker-Jones warned against taking the “violent financial act” of declaring exigency.
“It is an act for desperation,” Walker-Jones said. “It is an act you try to avoid at all costs.”
Wanda Jackson, a Southern history professor, said the Board’s decision left her “heartbroken.”
“I am concerned about what will happen to me, but I’m even more concerned about what will happen to students,” Jackson said.
Southern initially was facing a $10 million budget shortfall - half from state budget cuts and the rest from Southern’s enrollment losses and internal failings financially. To balance spending with revenues, cuts were made throughout Southern’s budget with the final $1.7 million coming through faculty furloughs.
Southern Faculty Senate President Sudhir Trivedi said a major decision “to butcher the faculty” should not be made on the 2 percent of the overall budget that $1.7 million represents.
Trivedi pointed to Southern expanding the university’s subsidy to its struggling athletic department from $1.2 million to about $2.4 million - an amount he said would have avoided the need for an exigency declaration.
“We are gutting the faculty and taking money out of the classroom,” Trivedi said. “On the other hand, you’re transferring the money over to athletics. ... I find it incomprehensible.”
Trivedi said he and other faculty may file a lawsuit to stop the financial emergency.
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.
AAUP, the nation’s top professor organization, had censured Southern for years, until 1987 when university administrators adopted more policies consistent with AAUP standards, Burstein wrote.
State Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell praised the Southern Board for “boldly” voting for exigency.
“Today’s vote indicates the board’s willingness to support proactive realignment of the institution to best meet its new priorities and goals and that’s an excellent indicator of their commitment to the university’s success,” Purcell said in a prepared statement.
Southern Board Chairman Darren Mire said he and others who previously voted against exigency changed their minds on Friday because compromise agreements with faculty did not work. “We’ve been talking about this since July,” Mire said.
Llorens initially had said at least 90 percent of the faculty needed to voluntarily accept the furloughs in order to balance the university budget without exigency.
Only about 60 percent of the faculty volunteered, and some tried to withdraw their agreements after the Southern Board initially rejected exigency.