Some members of the state’s higher education coordinating body complained Wednesday they have had no input into Southern University being on the verge of declaring a financial emergency.
The Southern Board of Supervisors is slated to vote Friday declaring such an emergency, called exigency, for the main Southern campus that allows the administration more leeway to lay off tenured faculty and ax academic programs to offset budget problems.
“Financial exigency is educational bankruptcy,” Regents Chairman Bob Levy said Wednesday morning. “What problem is so enormous that they think this is the way out?”
Exigency is generally considered a serious blemish that could scare away current and potential employees and students.
Regent Scott Ballard, of Covington, criticized the lack of communication from the Board of Regents staff leadership and from Southern.
“To me, it’s unacceptable,” Ballard said.
Todd Barre, the Regents’ deputy commissioner for finance and administration, said Southern leaders believe they have no other options because of budget cuts, enrollment losses and other financial issues.
“It gives them a critical look to reorganize and take a look at their operations,” Barre said.
Upon the Regents’ request, Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr. met them for lunch on Wednesday to explain the matter.
“It’s been years in the making, and it really is the only option available right now,” Mason said.
He said the budget can only be balanced — without critical staff layoffs — through 10 percent furloughs of most employees, including tenured faculty, and through shorter termination notices for faculty.
The Southern Faculty Senate voted unanimously last week to oppose exigency and the “voluntary furlough and program discontinuance” agreements that faculty received.
Southern Faculty Senate President Sudhir Trivedi has argued that faculty furloughs would only save about $1.5 million in a $77 million university budget. Mason said exigency is a “painful,” but necessary, step.
“By the time all this is said and done, Southern will be leaner but stronger,” Mason said. “The story is where we’re going to end up … and this is just one piece of the puzzle.”
Tenured and tenure-track faculty cannot be furloughed unless they voluntarily accept the pay cuts or if financial exigency is approved.
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 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.
The university that once had more than 10,000 students now enrolls more than 7,300 students.
Regardless of the issues, Regents member Clinton Rasberry, of Shreveport, complained that part of the problem is the Board of Regents has no authority in the matter as the state’s higher education policy and coordinating body.
The issue lies solely with the Southern Board because of the state’s higher education governance structure, he said.
“We can suggest, but we can’t make it happen, which is deeply frustrating,” Rasberry said.
Mason said he cannot be sure how the Southern Board members will vote.
“None of them like it, but my sense is they understand this is the only option,” Mason said.