Southern University Board Ousts New Orleans Chancellor
BATON ROUGE, La.
The board that governs Southern University in New Orleans voted 9-2 earlier this month to fire Chancellor Joseph Bouie, ending a months-long power struggle at the school.
A majority of the Southern University Board of Supervisors, with one abstention, said Bouie must vacate the chancellor’s office in 30 days.
The power struggle began with Bouie’s demand for the removal of Andrea Jefferson, a former member of the governing board, from her position as SUNO’s academic affairs vice chancellor (see Black Issues, Dec. 6). Jefferson, the wife of U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., was removed from her position at SUNO last month (see Black Issues, Dec. 20).
“Today I was fired as chancellor of Southern University at New Orleans because I refused to participate in political nepotism,” Bouie said.
The vote also was denounced by more than 20 SUNO faculty members who went to the meeting in Baton Rouge to lobby against Bouie’s removal, arguing that SUNO desperately needs stable leadership.
Board member Tony Clayton, who last month called for an investigation of Bouie’s performance, cited negative findings in a new report from the legislative auditor’s office, which said SUNO continues to exhibit weakness in its financial controls, as reason for Bouie’s dismissal.
Among other things, the auditor found problems with reconciling bank statements, irregularities with student worker paychecks and a failure to remove from the rolls students who didn’t complete the registration process.
“There’s a serious cancer down at that place,” Clayton said, dismissing Bouie’s arguments that fiscal management troubles predated his administration.
While the results of a staff investigation of Bouie’s performance are expected in February, the board changed its January meeting agenda just days before the meeting, with virtually no public notice, to allow action to be taken on the chancellor. As late as the morning of the meeting the item was not listed on an agenda posted on the board’s Web site.
The vote came after more than two hours of closed-door talks by the board. Members didn’t elaborate on their reasons for dismissing Bouie, who as a tenured professor can resume teaching social work classes at SUNO.
“I don’t think we treat cancer patients by cutting off their heads,” says board member Lea Polk of New Orleans. She voted against firing Bouie.
Another New Orleans board member, Richard Caiton fumed: “I don’t know how some of you all can sleep at night. … This smells. It really stinks. It reeks of politics.”
Jefferson is seeking relief in the courts for her removal as vice chancellor. Claiming whistle-blower protection, Jefferson has accused Bouie of wanting her out because she raised questions about mismanagement and unethical conduct at the university.
Bouie and SUNO faculty members made it clear there will be continuing protests over the decision. “I’m going to go back and talk to the SUNO family and see what we’re going to do,” Bouie says.
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