BATON ROUGE, La. – Members of the state’s top higher education board on Wednesday questioned whether Southern University needed to declare a financial emergency for its main campus and complained that school leaders hadn’t consulted them about the plans.
Southern’s Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote today on whether to declare “financial exigency” for the Baton Rouge campus, which would give the university more leeway to lay off faculty but would be considered a negative mark against the school.
Board of Regents members said Southern leaders should have talked to them before putting it on the agenda because the decision could have far-reaching implications on Louisiana higher education.
“Financial exigency is educational bankruptcy,”’ said Regents Chairman Bob Levy. He added, “It seems almost unbelievable that they would not be here today to discuss this matter.”
Levy said the declaration could affect Southern’s accreditation, student recruitment and perception of the school.
After the issue arose at the Regents meeting, Southern System President Ron Mason was called in to explain his recommendation to the board.
Mason told Regents a financial emergency pronouncement was the only alternative to balance the Baton Rouge campus’ budget this year, and he described it as part of a larger effort to restructure the Southern System.
“Is there any choice?” Levy asked Mason.
“There are no other options. We’ve wrestled with this,” Mason replied. “Nobody wants to do this, and if we had other options, we’d take them.”
Like other public colleges, Southern’s main campus has had several rounds of state financing cuts.
But 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 also shifted dollars away from the school.