Southern rapped for collecting yearbook fees

Advocate file photo by Bill Feig -- A November 2010 aerial of Southern University on the Bluff.
Advocate file photo by Bill Feig -- A November 2010 aerial of Southern University on the Bluff.

Southern University has been collecting yearly fees from students for a yearbook that hasn’t been published since 2008.

Southern’s vice chancellor for student affairs, Brandon Dumas, acknowledged last week the oddity of having nearly $1 million in a student media account going unused.

Dumas, who was appointed to his position after the yearbooks stopped being printed, was quick to point out the situation was caused by apathy and not dishonesty.

He said the Jaguar yearbook is put together entirely by students. The yearbooks stopped being printed when Southern’s former director of student media transferred to the Athletic Department in 2009 and wasn’t replaced for several years, he said.

Dumas said no student has ever approached him, nor has an alum complained to him about the roughly 5,000 yearbooks that were never printed.

“To this day, nobody has ever come to me, although that is not an excuse,” Dumas said Wednesday.

His comments came just a few days before Monday’s report from the legislative auditor knocking Southern for collecting more than $800,000 in yearbook fees from students since 2008 but failing to print yearbooks.

The Louisiana legislative auditor’s report further shows that although students voted to increase their campus media fees 10 years ago, they never received CD-ROM copies of the Jaguar as expected.

The report suggests the blame for not printing a yearbook falls on Southern’s administrators, but Chancellor James Llorens rebutted that in his written response to the audit.

“The responsibility lies ultimately in the commitment of our students,” Llorens wrote.

The Office of Student Media produces the Jaguar along with a student newspaper and magazine.

All three are paid for through a $25 self-imposed student media fee, down from the $32 fee students paid prior to 2012.

The audit report shows Southern’s yearbook account grew steadily from about $402,000 at the beginning of the 2009 fiscal year to $985,000 at the end of the 2012 fiscal year.

“Students are being charged a fee every semester for a yearbook,” the audit states. “Students voted to increase the fee so as to receive a CD-ROM version and more color pages of the Jaguar Yearbook. However, no yearbook has been produced in five years.”

The audit report suggested Southern “apply the resources necessary to produce the Jaguar Yearbook in a timely manner.”

Dumas described the situation as a lapse in student leadership in the student media office.

“What we have is a lack of leadership in that office and as a result, no yearbooks have been printed,” Dumas said.

“The bright side of the audit is that the pictures were taken and there was no misappropriation of funds.”

Dumas said Southern administrators will oversee the printing of a “mega-volume” of the 2013 Jaguar, which will include the student photos taken for the 2009-12 yearbook editions that were never printed.

“We will do our best to find those students and get them copies of the yearbook,” Dumas said. “We hope to make it available via CD-ROM and online.”

In the meantime, Llorens, who oversees the entire Baton Rouge campus, said the administration will adopt a hands-on approach to train current and future yearbook staffers and more closely monitor their progress to put out a yearbook every year.

“All expenses and resources will be utilized across platforms to create efficiency and effectiveness for all publications falling under the Office of Student Media,” Llorens wrote.