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SUNO Controversy Moves From Boardroom to Courtroom

SUNO Controversy Moves From Boardroom to Courtroom
By Scott Dyer

Dr. Joseph Bouie is convinced he would still be the chancellor of Southern University at New Orleans if he had not fired the wife of U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-La. And even though most members of the Southern University Board of Supervisors claim they fired Bouie on Jan. 11 because of a damaging audit, Bouie said the real reason for his ouster is Jefferson’s political influence.
Bouie called his firing “the most blatant example of how certain Black elected and appointed officials will bend to political influence at the expense of citizens of Louisiana in general and Black citizens in particular.” In an interview after his termination, Bouie said he considered education to be too important to allow Dr. Andrea Jefferson to remain as the school’s vice chancellor of academic affairs.
A number of SUNO faculty protested when Jefferson was hired by former SUNO Chancellor Gerald Peoples for the $75,000 post, (three years ago) claiming she had little teaching experience and no prior experience as a department head or dean.
Last June, in his second year as SUNO chancellor, Bouie launched what turned out to be a six-month effort to oust Jefferson. Bouie says his relationship with Southern University’s governing board soured as Jefferson responded with allegations about financial irregularities, gender discrimination and a complaint about sexually explicit e-mails.
“Everything went downhill, and my hands were tied, in effect, because I was busy with all kinds of crazy allegations and everything else,” Bouie says.
Besides being married to a congressman, Jefferson is a former member of the Southern University board. After getting the green light from the state Ethics Commission, she resigned in order to take the SUNO job.
Jefferson’s lawyer says it’s ridiculous for anyone to suggest she used those board connections or her husband’s political clout to fire Bouie.
“That’s illogical because it suggests she had the authority to fire Bouie with almost a unanimous board, but she wasn’t able to hang onto her own job,” says attorney Walter Wilkerson of New Orleans.
Wilkerson has filed a lawsuit to get Jefferson’s vice chancellorship restored. And on her behalf, he is seeking protection under the state’s “whistle-blower” statute, which shields state workers who call attention to improprieties.
In December, Southern University’s governing board finally upheld Bouie’s right as chancellor to assemble his own administrative team at SUNO — even if it meant the termination of Jefferson. And less than a month later, the board fired Bouie.
Bouie says he is considering a lawsuit to contest his firing. He says he is convinced Jefferson’s mud-slinging campaign to discredit him is the real reason for his firing, not the scathing audit released in early January by Louisiana legislative auditor Dr. Dan Kyle.
In reviewing SUNO’s books for the fiscal year that ended June 30, Kyle found a lack of controls at SUNO to assure that outstanding checks were accounted for properly.
“They can’t even reconcile their bank statements down there,” Kyle said in an interview about the audit. In addition, Kyle’s auditors found 28 checks, totaling $58,657 for student aid between October 2000 and June 2001, that had not been cashed by October of 2001.
“I get calls all the time from (SUNO) students complaining that they can’t get their money — well, those checks are probably sitting on someone’s desk, not being sent to the students. And the school continues to have problems reconciling its bank statements because those checks are outstanding,” Kyle says.
Other problems found in Kyle’s audit included SUNO’s failure to remove from its accounting records 249 students who started, but never completed, the registration process at SUNO. As a result, the school’s tuition and fee revenues were overstated by about $197,000.
Kyle also found irregularities in student-worker pay checks. Auditors performed spot checks on 36 student-worker time sheets for a pay period in March of 2001, and discovered that 19 percent were paid for more hours than their time sheets indicated. Another 36 percent of the students claimed to be working during times they were scheduled to be in class, a violation of university policy. One student was paid for 20 hours of work as a student employee even though SUNO records indicate he was not even attending the school at the time.
Bouie claims he inherited many of those financial problems when he took over as chancellor in March of 2000. But Kyle said late last month that he doesn’t consider that to be a valid excuse.
“Anytime we assume a new job, we inherit problems, but it’s our responsibility to address those problems and to resolve them — and he (Bouie) apparently has not done that,” Kyle says.
In making the motion to fire Bouie, Southern University Board member Tony Clayton said the audit demanded action.
“I think there’s a serious cancer down at that place, and the board has no choice but to put in place a mechanism to solve these problems,” Clayton says.
Clayton acknowledged that SUNO has experienced bad audits in the past, but says the problems appear to be continuing under Bouie. But board member Roger Caiton says the audit was a smokescreen.
“This smells, it really reeks — it reeks of politics,” Caiton says.
When the board voted 9-2 to fire Bouie, several SUNO faculty and students began singing “We Shall Overcome” and shouting at the board. Until a permanent replacement for Bouie can be found, Southern University System Vice President Dr. Press Robinson is serving as interim chancellor at SUNO.

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