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Southern’s Chancellor Faces Questions From Students About Budget Cuts

Dr. Kofi Lomotey, chancellor of Southern University, faced tough questions from students concerning funding, fees and the university’s future.

“Students brought questions to me that I just don’t have the answers to, but [Lomotey] might have these answers,” Student Government Senator Sabrina Whitney said. Southern’s Student Government Association sponsored the question period earlier this month.

“I was pleased to come and do this review,” Lomotey said. “Communication is the key on the campus to dispel rumors and to answer any questions or address any concerns among the student body with detailed information.”

The biggest concern from students was funding. This semester has seen its share of faculty and budget cuts and Lomotey said things may get worse before they get better.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal ordered Southern to cut $4 million from its budget, which led Lomotey to announce in December that overtime pay will rarely be approved; essentially freeze hiring, except in exceptional circumstances; and limit travel and equipment purchases, subject to approval by the provost or vice chancellor.

If the state legislature institutes another budget cut, Lomotey said, jobs are at risk.

“If the legislature goes through with their second of two budget cutting scenarios, we would have to cut $15 million out of a $51 million budget, and we just don’t have that in nonpersonnel. We would have to cut some faculty and staff as well as administration,” he added. “We can’t cut tenured faculty but there are almost one hundred [faculty members] who are temporary and we would have to eliminate positions that are not filled. We are not expecting that big of a cut but it is something that we are told to prepare for.”

Another controversial topic has been the LaCumba fee. In 2004, students approved a $2 fee per semester to buy a jaguar shortly after the death of its last live mascot. The plan was to also build a South American-inspired habitat with miniature Mayan temples, a cascading waterfall and 10,000 square feet of green space for the animal.

Lomotey appeared to be unaware of the fund, and didn’t know what happened to money collected prior to his arrival to the university in mid-2008.

“I feel it is inhumane to have any animal confined in such captivity on any campus, but that is not the thought of everyone,” he said, adding, “I was unaware that students were paying such a fee because there hasn’t presently been any talk of getting a jaguar and this matter will be looked into.”

When informed of money being raised prior to his arrival Lomotey said, “It was a fundraising attempt to duplicate what LSU [Louisiana State University] had done, and I don’t know what happened to it.”

The chancellor also answered questions that were submitted via e-mail.

Students wanted to know whether it was feasible for the university to reduce or eliminate the cost of campus dining for students living in the on-campus apartments or if construction of a commuter-parking garage would ever be built.

“That’s a difficult one to handle, seeing that policy states that every student living on campus [is] required to pay into the meal plan because we have $800,000 of annual expenses in order to pay into food services and if the residence on campus don’t pay into the meal plan we would have to come up with the money from someplace else.

The chancellor went on to say discussions about the parking garage were taking place before he arrived, but there is some interest in building one. Of course, students can expect an increase in parking fees to cover the cost.

Lomotey dispelled lingering rumors about the elimination of summer school, the Human Jukebox Marching Band — recently disbanded because of hazing charges — and the music department.

“It was never up for discussion that we would not be having summer school or closing the music department. We plan to have summer school this year and hope that students will be able to apply for both the summer and fall simultaneously.

“Also, the band was not disbanded indefinitely. I believe they were only disbanded for less than a week by the director with intentions of encouraging the members of the band to recommitting themselves to a higher standard of behavior. The band is alive and well.”

— Diverse staff contributed to this report

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