Southern University at Baton Rouge Pushes Its Faculty for Pay Cuts

BATON ROUGE, La. – Southern University “likely” will ask to declare a financial emergency next week unless nearly the entire faculty agrees to furloughs and shorter termination notices.

Southern’s new chancellor, James Llorens, told The Advocate of Baton Rouge on Wednesday that the budget shortfall proved larger than expected and that greater demands are being asked of the faculty. But some of faculty members are balking at the requests, essentially creating a standoff with Southern’s administration.

Declaring a financial emergency, called exigency, allows the administration more leeway to lay off tenured faculty and axe academic programs. Exigency is generally considered a serious blemish that could scare away current and potential employees.

Southern faculty is receiving “voluntary furlough and program discontinuance” agreements to sign. The wording includes furloughs equaling 10 percent of their annual pay across-the-board for all Southern employees.

The agreement does not guarantee that exigency, which would allow the university to force furloughs, will not be declared.

Llorens said that, unless 95 to 100 percent of the faculty sign the agreement voluntarily, university administrators would have no option but to call exigency.

“I understand this is a difficult situation. It’s nothing we go into lightly,” Llorens said.

After initially agreeing to furloughs of up 10 percent last month, Southern Faculty Senate President Sudhir Trivedi said the extra demands and lack of guarantees change everything.

“They refuse to be fair and equitable, and that is why our offer is not on the table anymore,” Trivedi said, noting that the executive committee of the Faculty Senate unanimously opposes signing the agreement.

“We will fight in every possible way against financial exigency,” Trivedi said. “If they are bluffing, I am calling out their bluff.”

Trivedi also is upset with some pay raises and promotions in the Southern University System office occurring at the same time.

Walter Tillman, the former executive associate to the vice president for academic and student affairs, was promoted to the newly created system office for academic initiatives position with a 35 percent raise from $66,500 to $90,000.

Also, Linda Catalon, the system director of internal audit, got more than a 10 percent pay hike from $76,000 to $85,000.

Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr. said the savings come from eliminating the vice president from academic and student affairs position and its $156,500 salary when Kassie Freeman retired.

The system office also is starting a new $40,000 fund to support faculty research development and awards, Mason said.

Now, the main Baton Rouge campus must restructure as did the system office last year, he said. Unfortunately, he added, that may require exigency.

“It’s an extraordinary step, but these are extraordinary circumstances,” Mason said.