A national search for the next Southern University chancellor is slated after the Southern University System Board of Supervisors decided Monday in an 8-7 vote not to renew Southern University Chancellor James Llorens’ contract. The board reconvened in a special session to revisit its February 10 decision not to move on with Llorens. His last day in charge of the flagship campus will be June 30.
The special session was called after students, alumni and other supporters voiced disapproval when the board decided not to give Llorens a one-year extension, based on the initial recommendations of SU System President Ronald Mason Jr. The decision to oust Llorens was made after Mason recommended the board renew his contract only if certain organizational changes were made, which ultimately would give Mason more authority over the campus. Similar administrative changes were made at Louisiana State University last year, when F. King Alexander assumed the role of president of the LSU System and chancellor of the university.
“I believe he (Mason) has done a major injustice to this board and university,” said former SU System Board Chair Johnny Anderson. “If the president thinks he can just quiet this down within two weeks and it’s business as usual, he’s mistaken. Blatant disregard for the university’s stakeholders can result in political problems for the university, fiscal problems for the university and support problems for the university because obviously, you’re not listening to what the stakeholders are saying.”
Six board members initially voted to extend Llorens’ contract. Whether a board member voted for or against the extension to support Llorens’ in his stance against Mason is still unclear by many supporters.
“Certain board members just can’t hide behind the excuse that they voted a certain way to benefit the chancellor. They can’t hide behind any longer,” Anderson said. “If that was the case why didn’t they present an alternative motion?
“I certainly applaud those people who stood up and compromised in favor of Dr. Llorens,” Anderson said. “But the really sad part is that all this boils down to a lot of people posturing for positions and the university is suffering while folks want to be chairman of the board or chancellor and all of this is just adverse to the betterment of our university.”
Llorens took the helm as Southern’s chancellor three years ago during a time when Southern was in the midst of budget cuts, failing APR rates, low enrollment numbers, high faculty and staff turnover. However, some Southern University students, faculty, supporters and alumni attest that the chancellor has turned the school around and it will take more than three years to get the school back on track.
SU Computer Science Professor Sudhir Trivedi isn’t inclined to agree. Trivedi, known for his outspoken nature as a member of the university’s faculty senate, wrote in a recent letter addressed to students, alumni, faculty members, and board members that Llorens’ appointment as chancellor was a political choice, not academic or educated.
“The SUBR chancellor’s office is not a political office,” Trivedi wrote in the letter. “A chancellor is appointed or reappointed by the Board based on the System President’s recommendation which, in turn, is based on an individual’s record and his past performance, not politics and political connections … One must not be fooled into thinking of Dr. Llorens as a victim. In contrast, Dr. Llorens signifies the quintessence of politics over performance of which he has been a longstanding beneficiary.”
Trivedi wrote Llorens “singlehandedly” was responsible for earning the university probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) in 2012.
“Llorens’ administration has been full of dismal failures … due solely to his inaction and incompetence … ” Trivedi wrote.
Current board member and former board chair Myron Lawson voted both times to extend Llorens’ contract. He, along with board member Calvin Braxton, spoke during a university forum supporting Llorens after the first vote. The board members were aware of benchmarks that were set for Llorens, but Lawson said the Llorens needed more time.
“My position is that he deserves an opportunity to start seeing the fruits of his labor and to complete those things he has started,” said Lawson, who is also a former board chairman, in a phone interview after the forum. “No one can do it all in two years. He deserves a chance to be a chancellor.”
Anderson said major decisions need to be made before Mason’s contract renewal is on the agenda later this year.
“Folks can talk about the chancellor, but Mason’s record isn’t all that great at the system level. The president lacks leadership,” Anderson said. “He (Mason) took over Bayou Classic (football game) and it’s the worst it’s ever been. What has he done at the system level to enhance any of our five campuses? He’s done absolutely nothing. But I’m pushing for a continued march to return our institution to those who know what’s at stake for Southern. I’m not going to let him leave the fingerprint on Southern that he left on Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State.”
Anderson “fingerprint” reference is a 2010 proposal made by Mason to consolidate the three Mississippi historically black universities. Mason was president of Jackson State University at the time. When Mason left Jackson State later that year to take the job at Southern, not many of the state’s HBCU supporters opposed the departure.