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Decision Postponed on Southern University Financial Status

BATON ROUGE, La. – A decision on whether to declare a financial emergency for Southern University’s main campus was delayed Friday until this week, while school leaders try to broker a compromise with faculty over salary cuts.

Meeting in Shreveport, the Southern University Board of Supervisors postponed a vote until Wednesday in the hopes of reaching a deal with professors.

Katara Williams, spokeswoman for the SU System, said at least 90 percent of the faculty will have to agree to two years of consecutive furloughs of up to 10 percent, for the Baton Rouge campus to avoid emergency status.

“We wanted to make sure that every single option was exhausted before we had to do something so drastic,” Williams said in a phone interview.

The financial emergency declaration would give the historically Black university more leeway to lay off professors but would be considered a negative mark against the school that could harm recruiting and accreditation.

Southern Faculty Senate President Sudhir Trivedi said the faculty will want any campus budget proposal to include a reduction in administrative costs as well.

“Our cooperation is contingent upon whether the administration is working in good faith and whether any solution administration proposes is fair and equitable,” Trivedi said in an e-mail.

Trivedi said less than 30 percent of the budget will be spent on faculty salaries.

“The administration needs to streamline itself,” he said.

The financial emergency proposal ran into complaints last week from members of Louisiana’s top higher education board, the Board of Regents, who said it could have far-reaching implications on the state’s higher education systems and could damage Southern.

Southern System President Ron Mason told the Regents that unless an agreement could be reached with the university professors, the school had no other options to balance its budget.

Like other public colleges, Southern’s main campus has been hit by several rounds of state budget cuts. The university’s state funding has dropped from $55 million in 2008-09 to $33 million this year as health care and retirement costs have grown, according to data provided by the university.

Also, the university’s enrollment has dropped steadily over the last five years, draining tuition dollars from the campus. And a recent performance-based funding formula has shifted dollars from the school.

Southern leaders previously asked the Baton Rouge-based faculty to agree to voluntary furloughs this year and a shortened notice requirement for laying off tenured faculty to avoid the emergency declaration. But faculty leaders refused.

Williams said a decision will have to be made this week because a balanced campus budget must be completed by Thursday.

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