AAUP knocks Southern layoffs

A national organization of university professors released a report Wednesday criticizing the way Southern University faculty were treated immediately after the school declared a financial emergency nearly two years ago.

The report from the American Association of University Professors accuses Southern of freezing faculty out of the decision-making process as administrators looked for ways to cut costs.

Southern declared a financial emergency, called exigency, in October 2011 as a result of ongoing state budget cuts and student enrollment losses. Exigency, which is generally considered to tarnish a university’s national reputation, allowed Southern to more easily lay off tenured faculty and eliminate degree programs.

Southern eliminated roughly 70 faculty positions and several dozen nonfaculty positions through layoffs, retirements, resignations and attrition during the eight-month exigency period.

Southern University’s media relations office referred questions about the issue to a letter Chancellor James Llorens wrote to the AAUP defending the university’s actions.

Specifically, the AAUP report criticizes Southern administrators for settling on exigency as a way out of financial trouble without first consulting faculty.

“Of particular concern is the administration’s virtual exclusion of the university’s faculty from successive phases of the decision-making process where the faculty’s involvement should be crucially important,” the report says.

It goes on to fault Southern for not immediately seizing a deal where 60 percent of faculty volunteered to take 10 percent of their job time off without pay.

In his response to the AAUP, Llorens cites repeated state budget cuts, state-mandated increases in admissions standards and numerous unfunded mandates as the reasons for Southern’s financial troubles and subsequent decision to pursue exigency.

He argued that the university terminated hundreds of staff employees, furloughed administrators, increased class sizes and reduced the number of adjunct faculty in an attempt to stave off the need to declare a financial emergency.

Llorens also took exception to the assertion that Southern administrators ignored a deal where 60 percent of faculty would voluntarily take furloughs.

The “report implies that financial exigency could have been avoided, had the administration accepted a 60 percent voluntary furlough rate by faculty,” Llorens wrote. “Once faculty members became aware that furloughs would not be 100 percent for all faculty, many who had voluntarily agreed to be furloughed began to demand a reversal of their voluntary furlough pledges.”

The number of volunteers turned out to be much lower than 60 percent of all faculty, Llorens said.

Jenn Nichols, an associate secretary in the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, said members of the organization will discuss their report at their meeting in Washington, D.C., at the end of May.

From there, a committee will recommend whether Southern should be placed on the AAUP’s censure list. Censure status is generally seen as a blemish on a school’s reputation that can hamper faculty recruitment and retention.

Should the committee recommend Southern be censured, AAUP members will vote on the recommendation in mid-June, Nichols said.