State budget cuts could mean dire results for UNO, SUNO _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- Dr. Peter Fos president of the University of New Orleans.

University of New Orleans President Peter Fos is expected to announce next week that he’s stepping down from the helm of the Lakefront school, according to a source in the University of Louisiana System, which oversees the school.

Fos’ three-year tenure at UNO has been marked by steep funding cuts and declining enrollment in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the campus and the city in 2005.

It’s unclear whether he is resigning or being forced from his position and when his departure might take effect.

Rumors of Fos’ potential departure swirled through the campus late this week.

In an email Friday, state Higher Education Commissioner Joseph Rallo largely declined comment, saying, “This really is a system personnel matter and they are best positioned to respond.”

UNO spokesman Adam Norris said he had no knowledge of any upcoming announcement regarding Fos’ tenure.

Fos did not respond to an email Friday seeking comment.

In a 2014 interview, Fos said he was dealt a bad hand, taking over at a cash-strapped university that had “really never made all of the hard, tough decisions” to reduce its staffing and other costs as its enrollment fell, a trend that was exacerbated after Katrina.

UNO’s state funding fell from $56 million in 2008 to $28 million last year.

Enrollment has declined at a similar rate, from 17,360 students in 2003 to 8,281 last spring.

School officials blame the enrollment decline on several factors, including the city’s loss of population after Katrina and stricter admission standards, which went into effect when the state ordered the school to stop offering remedial courses to freshmen who were not ready for college coursework.

In response, Fos has cut at least 140 positions and closed a popular on-campus child care center. The university recently announced plans to outsource its maintenance services work this fall, a cost-cutting measure intended to save more than $1 million in five years at the expense of nearly 80 workers whose jobs were thrown into question.

Meanwhile, UNO faculty spent much of last year studying ways to cut costs and determining which of 80 degree programs should be shored up with new investment and which should be restructured or eliminated.

Fos eventually recommended eliminating six academic programs, one department and 22 faculty and staff positions in a push to save $1 million this academic year and $2.8 million next year.

In response, UNO faculty passed a largely symbolic vote of no confidence in his ability to continue leading the school.

Fos, a UNO graduate and New Orleans native, said this year that the various cost-cutting moves were starting to get UNO on a better financial footing and that raises and increases to travel budgets and scholarships would be possible in coming years.

Before he was tapped to lead UNO, Fos was a professor and program director of health policy and systems management at the LSU Health Sciences Center. He also spent three years as provost and executive vice president at the University of Texas at Tyler.

Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.