Southern University New Orleans is in a tough spot. Interim Chancellor James Ammons said he must cut $2 million from its $24.6 million annual operating budget to be in better financial shape when a Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Commission on Colleges accreditation team visits in the spring.
Before deciding how he would make necessary cuts, the chancellor engaged others. He held a town hall meeting, visited faculty and staff members, talked with student leaders, and discussed the challenges with alumni. Then he took action.
Certainly, it was no easy decision to choose to eliminate the university’s entire athletics operation. While there are higher education institutions that thrive without athletics, sports can be a powerful draw for recruiting and an important aspect of college camaraderie. We’re in the middle of the 2020 academic year, and Ammons said in a recent memo to faculty, staff and students that all intercollegiate athletic programs will be paused on June 30 for "an unspecified period.”
This indefinite suspension affects an assistant coach, four head coaches and 56 student-athletes directly, and it has an impact across the campus. The SUNO Knights have basketball and track-and-field teams for both men and women, plus women's volleyball. As in most colleges with sports programs, they lose money. Many other institutions struggle to continue sports programs by seeking private partnerships and sponsorships, event and game tickets and student fees. Still, without big donors, it’s often not enough.
Ammons isn’t counting only on cutting. SUNO enrollment has dwindled from 2,724 students five years ago to 2,308 students this semester. He’s getting alumni and other stakeholders involved with fundraising. Ammons is also stepping up recruiting by engaging community college students as they graduate this month so SUNO doesn’t have to wait for fall to see enrollment growth.
As Ammons does what he thinks he needs to do, we encourage Southern University System President-Chancellor Ray Belton and the Southern University System Board of Supervisors to support his efforts to stabilize SUNO. Ultimately, SUNO’s problems also point to a broader challenge in funding for public colleges and universities in Louisiana. It’s been too long since state government has funded its public institutions at appropriate levels. We’re certain SACS would consider state support a plus.