Southern Faculty Upset Over Administrative Salary Hikes
BATON ROUGE, La. — The Southern University board’s recent decision to give eight top administrators huge pay hikes has prompted the faculty senate to deliver a “no-confidence” vote and a professor to launch a nine-day hunger strike in protest.
Sudhir Trivedi, an associate professor of computer science, pitched a tent outside Southern University’s administrative building here and conducted the hunger strike to seek “divine intervention” during a faculty uproar over the pay raises.
The university’s board of supervisors voted in February to raise Dr. Leon Tarver’s salary as president from $130,000 a year to $190,000 and to boost Dr. Edward Jackson’s salary as chancellor of the Baton Rouge campus from $31,000 to $153,000.
Also receiving similar pay hikes were the chancellors of Southern University’s Shreveport and New Orleans campuses, the chancellor of the school’s law center and three other top administrators in the system office.
Like many of his fellow faculty members, Trivedi says the pay hikes are too high in light of the school’s other needs. Faculty members at the historically Black university received an average 3 percent pay hike last fall.
But most Southern University faculty members earn far less than the Southern regional average for similar institutions. Trivedi contends that Tarver and Jackson should have refused to accept the large raises until the school’s other needs were met.
Interim Faculty Senate President Edward Massenberg sent a letter asking the board to rescind the raises. Massenberg says the pay hikes, which totaled $274,360 per year, had “severely demoralized the faculty and tarnished the image of the university.”
And later, while Trivedi was conducting his hunger strike, Massenberg convinced the faculty senate to pass a vote of “no confidence” in the board of supervisors for granting the pay hikes.
But a controversy has arisen over whether the vote was valid. Massenberg says the 13-2 vote constituted a quorum. But former Faculty Senate President Diola Bagayoko contends that the senate has 30 members, and a majority is needed to take such action.
Myron Lawson, chairman of Southern’s board, repeatedly has said that the unrest among faculty members over the pay raise is limited to a few vocal professors. He says supervisors had little choice but to give the raises to attract and retain competent, top-notch administrators and noted that Louisiana’s other higher education governing boards have taken similar steps over the past year.
Across town at Louisiana State University, the predominantly White school’s board of supervisors awarded pay hikes to all six of that system’s chancellors last fall. And in July the Louisiana State board gave Dr. Bill Jenkins, the system’s president, a pay-and-benefits increase of nearly $100,000, bringing his annual compensation to $287,250 a year.
Southern’s supervisors remain committed to raising salaries for faculty and staff to a level comparable with similar colleges, Lawson says, but board members want to wait and see how much the state Legislature gives the school this spring.
Gov. Mike Foster unveiled a proposal last month to raise faculty and staff salaries at all of Louisiana’s public colleges to the Southern regional average. But that hinges on $90 million in extra revenue — money that might be hard to find with the state facing a $600 million budget shortfall in the fiscal year that starts July 1.
Meanwhile, when Southern University went on spring break March 17, Trivedi “suspended” his hunger strike.
“The school was going to be closed for 10 days, and part of the purpose of a fast… is to create awareness,” Trivedi told Black Issues. “And if there is nobody there, how do you create awareness?”
Trivedi says he broke his fast with a cookie and some orange juice after other faculty members expressed concern about his health. Southern’s administrators had a health center physician check the professor’s health daily during the fast.
And while Trivedi says he felt weak during the nine-day fast, he had no problems teaching his classes. The professor says he has no immediate plans to resume the hunger strike when classes resume after spring break.
“We will try to have a dialogue [with the board and administrators] but if nothing comes out of that dialogue, I will resume” the hunger strike, Trivedi says.
Meanwhile, Massenberg is suggesting a faculty boycott as a possible strategy this spring. But many faculty members have strong feelings about a protest that would literally shut down the university.
Eva Baham, a Southern University faculty senator and an assistant professor of history, says such a boycott would ultimately hurt the school’s students and “we need to put students first,” she says.
Baham contends that state lawmakers already treat Southern University as a “second-class” school when it comes to state funding and warned that a faculty-forced shutdown would only aggravate the situation.
“We would be feeding into the hands of people who don’t think this university should be here in the first place,” she warned her colleagues at a recent faculty senate meeting.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com