SUNO Board Forgoes Search, Appoints New Chancellor
Faculty leaders protest move; board cites accreditation concerns as reason for rush
By Scott Dyer
BATON ROUGE, La.
Southern University at New Orleans (SUNO) faculty leaders are crying foul over a move by the school’s governing board to hire a new chancellor without a search.
It’s the latest controversy at the same campus that was rocked late last year when former SUNO Chancellor Joseph Bouie fired three female administrators, including the wife of U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-La. (see Black Issues, Dec. 6, 2001).
Dr. Andrea Jefferson, the school’s former vice chancellor of academic affairs, claimed Bouie fired her in retaliation for pointing out several problems with his administration. Bouie himself was fired in January after an audit revealed several deep-rooted financial problems (see Black Issues, Jan. 31). Both Bouie and Andrea Jefferson have filed lawsuits seeking to get their jobs back.
But the major concern at this point is about the impact of the upheaval on an ongoing review of SUNO’s College of Education by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).
NCATE has indicated the review is in trouble, and a loss of accreditation would end the school’s ability to give Pell Grants and other aid to needy students, warned Southern University System President Leon Tarver.
To help get the school back on its feet, Southern University Board of Supervisors approved Tarver’s recommendation last month to forgo the normal search and appoint the system’s top academic officer as SUNO’s new chancellor.
A longtime teacher and researcher at Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus, Dr. Press Robinson also has held a seat on the local school board for the past 22 years.
Robinson, who has a doctorate in chemistry from Howard University, has served as Southern University system vice president for academic affairs for the past three years and as interim chancellor since the beginning of the year.
The move to promote Robinson without a search drew protests from faculty leaders.
Bill Stewart, a SUNO professor and a former faculty senate president, said Tarver and the Southern University board created the problem by failing to launch a search for a permanent chancellor when Bouie was fired in January.
In a letter to Southern board chairman John Belton, Stewart complained the crisis manufactured by the board is now being used to appoint a chancellor without a search.
“This crisis is entirely of your making, and it is being used as pretext to cram Dr. Robinson down our throats,” Stewart said in a letter to Belton.
But Robinson said time is critical in the accreditation efforts.
“The NCATE issue needs attention right now, and we need to start dealing with it right now. If you wait three months to bring on a new chancellor, and the chancellor spends another three months to find a new education dean, then suddenly six months are gone — and by then, it could be too late (to save the education college’s accreditation),” Robinson says.
Robinson said his first order of business will be to fill several key administrative jobs that were left vacant by the Bouie administration.
“The first thing is to stabilize the campus, because they do have a lot of interim leadership — the chancellor was interim, all three vice chancellors are interim, the dean of the college of education has been dismissed (by Bouie),” Robinson says.
Robinson said the search was aborted because of concerns that the lack of a full-time, permanent chancellor could hurt the school in NCATE’s review.
Meanwhile, Bouie has filed a lawsuit alleging that the Southern board illegally conspired to fire him.
Among other things, Bouie alleges in his lawsuit that the Southern University Board of Supervisors held an illegal meeting during the Tulane-Southern University football game in New Orleans on Sept. 28.
The lawsuit said the board made “conspiratorial communications and secret agreements” during the game.
Bouie alleges that the board’s action was not only a violation of the Louisiana Open Meeting Law but also violated his rights as an employee.
Board member Harrison Baptiste flatly denied that there were any illegal meetings during the game. But Baptiste said there might have been some isolated discussions about Bouie by board members during the game.
“If two or three board members just stand around and talk about something, that’s not a board meeting. He (Bouie) is just crying sour grapes, that’s all,” Baptiste says.
Louisiana law requires government bodies to meet in public and to give prior notice of their meetings.
Bouie claims in the lawsuit that he was fired because he insisted on replacing Andrea Jefferson as SUNO’s vice chancellor of academic affairs.
“I could not be intimidated, so ultimately, they had to terminate me,” Bouie says.
But Ralph Slaughter, Southern University System vice president for administration, said a critical legislative audit helped to doom Bouie’s chancellorship and forced his firing in January.
“He (Bouie) is an at-will employee, so the board could have dismissed him without a reason,” he says.
But Slaughter said the audit, coupled with news that SUNO was facing up to a $2 million deficit, was a major factor in terminating Bouie’s chancellorship.
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com