Lomotey Stuns Southern University-Baton Rouge by Resigning as Chancellor

Hit with a recent no-confidence vote from the Faculty Senate and facing an uncertain contract renewal, Dr. Kofi Lomotey resigned as chancellor of the Southern University Baton Rouge campus.

A Nov. 26 press release from the university stated that Lomotey “officially tendered his resignation today at Southern’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting in New Orleans. Lomotey, who has been chancellor since 2008, did not comment on his decision.”

Lomotey’s contract, which began in July 2008, is set to expire next month. The board was scheduled to vote on renewing it at the Nov. 26 meeting but instead unanimously accepted his resignation. The supervisors also agreed to have Lomotey continue through June while a search is conducted for a new chancellor.

“It was the chancellor’s own decision,” outgoing board chairman Tony Clayton told Diverse. “He is one of the smartest human beings I have ever met, but there was a budget crisis facing him. He did what he thought was in the best interest of the university.”

Student Government Association President Demetrius Sumner said Lomotey failed to garner the support and cooperation he needed from students, faculty, staff and alumni. “Unfortunately, there existed fundamental, irreconcilable differences between these entities that prompted the chancellor’s resignation,” Sumner said. “Chancellor Lomotey’s administration was unsuccessful at getting the other bodies of the institution on board with its plan or vision for the university. Instead, many felt removed from the conversation about how to move us forward.”

Lomotey’s resignation appeases the Faculty Senate, which sent him a 12-point list of “failures,” including the creation of a $120,000 professorship without faculty input — and without an endowment, failure to increase student enrollment and student retention during his tenure and lack of external fundraising.

In his response to the Senate’s complaints, Lomotey cited 27 of his accomplishments including raising $1.4 million for the new Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, forming a campuswide team to address grievances about customer service and establishing the chancellor’s lecture series.

In Lomotey’s response to the Faculty Senate, he also summarized the fiscal challenges he has faced:

“Since my arrival in Baton Rouge in July 2008, we have been asked to reduce our budget four times, to the tune of approximately $17 million. Presently, we are bracing for a fifth budget reduction that may be between 15 and 30 percent. You cannot imagine the number of hours that are involved in addressing these requests to cut our budget. This has taken a significant amount of my time and the time of my executive leadership team.”

Despite the Faculty Senate’s opposition to Lomotey’s administration, senate President Sudhir Trivedi was less than sanguine about the resignation. “It’s not about rejoicing or celebrating,” he said. “This is a disappointment because we had high hopes for him and it did not work out that way.”

In recent months, the 13-member Faculty Senate stepped up its criticism of Lomotey’s leadership, following his appointment of a renowned scholar to what was supposed to be an endowed professorship, even after failing to raise funds for the endowment.  “Personally, I believe hiring Lisa Delpit was a turning point,” said Trivedi. “If that would not have happened, it is highly likely we would not have done a vote of no confidence.”

According to Trivedi, faculty were incensed that, at a time of layoffs and cutbacks, they were not involved in the decision to add Delpit to the faculty. Delpit’s reported $120,000 salary is more than twice that of a full professor at the university.

“We need to rapidly get new leadership and move the institution forward,” Trivedi said.

By all indications, moving forward will not be easy. “It’s going to be extremely devastating come this January,” Clayton said. “We’re out of money, and unless President (Barack) Obama steps up to the plate as he said he would, these Black colleges are in trouble.” 

The historically Black SU System includes campuses in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, La., and Shreveport, La.

Before becoming chancellor, Lomotey had served as executive vice president/provost at Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., and as president of Fort Valley State University in Georgia. He also held administrative positions at Louisiana State University, the State University of New York at Buffalo and the University of California Santa Cruz.

When Lomotey arrived at Southern, he told Diverse he had a special commitment to historically Black institutions: “HBCUs provide a nurturing, parenting role that few if any other institutions provide. Our institutions, in many ways, provide a think tank or resource of information on the history and culture of our people.”