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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Southern University pushes its faculty for pay cuts


Southern University “likely” will ask to declare a financial emergency next week unless nearly all of the faculty agree to furloughs and shorter termination notices, the chancellor said Wednesday.
Southern’s new chancellor, James Llorens, said the budget shortfall proved larger than expected and greater demands are being asked of the faculty. But some of faculty members are balking at the requests, essentially creating a standoff with Southern’s administration.
Declaring a financial emergency, called exigency, allows the administration more leeway to lay off tenured faculty and axe academic programs. Exigency is generally considered a serious blemish that could scare away current and potential employees.
Southern faculty are receiving “voluntary furlough and program discontinuance” agreements to sign. The wording includes furloughs equaling 10 percent of their annual pay across-the-board for all Southern employees.
The agreement does not guarantee that exigency, which would allow the university to force furloughs, will not be declared.
Llorens said unless 95 to 100 percent of the faculty voluntarily sign the agreement, university administrators would have no option but to call exigency. “I understand this is a difficult situation. It’s nothing we go into lightly,” Llorens said.
After initially agreeing to furloughs of up 10 percent last month, Southern Faculty Senate President Sudhir Trivedi said the extra demands and lack of guarantees change everything.
“They refuse to be fair and equitable, and that is why our offer is not on the table anymore,” Trivedi said, noting that the executive committee of the Faculty Senate unanimously opposes signing the agreement.
“We will fight in every possible way against financial exigency,” Trivedi said. “If they are bluffing, I am calling out their bluff.”
Llorens said he plans to meet with faculty leaders Thursday.

Trivedi also is upset with some pay raises and promotions in the Southern University System office occurring at the same time.
Walter Tillman, the former executive associate to the vice president for academic and student affairs, was promoted to the newly created system office for academic initiatives position with a 35 percent raise from $66,500 to $90,000.
Also, Linda Catalon, the system director of internal audit, got more than a 10 percent pay hike from about $76,000 to $85,000.
Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr. said the savings come from eliminating the vice president from academic and student affairs position and its $156,500 salary when Kassie Freeman retired.
The system office also is starting a new $40,000 fund to support faculty research development and awards, Mason said.
Now, the main Baton Rouge campus must restructure as did the system office last year, he said. Unfortunately, he added, that may require exigency.
“It’s an extraordinary step, but these are extraordinary circumstances,” Mason said.
Llorens said the furloughs would be temporary and that structural changes and program cuts made in the next few months should make for long-term fixes. He said that is why faculty who are laid off from program cuts will need to be out of the job by the end of the school year.
Tenure or tenure-track faculty typically require at least a one year or more termination notice.
Southern staff have been furloughed by 4.6 percent the past two years, but the faculty have not.
Southern is in its third year of state budget cuts, and the university has been affected by budget problems more than most colleges because Southern also has lost revenue from its declining enrollment.
A university that once had more than 10,000 students, now enrolls more than 7,300 students.
The university budget is slated for final approval at the Aug. 26 Southern University System Board meeting in Shreveport. The board also most approve the exigency request, if one is submitted.
Despite the problems, Trivedi insisted the university is not in “financial insolvency” and that more administrative cutbacks can be made.
Southern Student Government Association President Demetrius Sumner, who also sits on the Southern Board of Supervisors, said he is pushing for the faculty to sign the agreements.
Faculty cutbacks are imminent regardless, he said.
“These are things that are going to happen one way or another,” Sumner said. “The only question is, do we declare financial exigency to do it?”

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