Southern Board to consider raises

Ronald Mason
Ronald Mason

Hundreds of Southern University employees from New Orleans to Shreveport could soon be putting more money into their pockets; that is, if campus leaders can articulate a convincing enough case to Southern’s Board of Supervisors on Friday.

The board is set to consider across-the-board salary increases of up to 4 percent for faculty and staff at Southern’s law school, agricultural center and New Orleans campus. Also proposed is a possible pay bump for select workers on Southern’s Shreveport campus.

So far, there is nothing in the works for Southern’s Baton Rouge campus, but Southern System President Ronald Mason said that could change in the near future.

To consider any type of broad pay increases on a state-run college campus represents a shift in Louisiana. State budget cuts to colleges and universities — more than $700 million total since 2008 — have been the dominant story in Louisiana’s higher education community going back several years.

Consequently, most of the talk on campuses and at board meetings has been how to make do with less. But just a few weeks after LSU System President King Alexander announced pay increases for LSU employees, Southern board members are about to consider making a parallel move.

Katara Williams, assistant commissioner for public affairs with the state Board of Regents, which oversees Louisiana’s public colleges, said the increases are merited.

Colleges and universities have significantly downsized staff in recent years, leaving remaining workers to handle extra duties without extra compensation, Williams said.

“Couple that with increases in the cost of living that further impacts families and we are absolutely in favor of any salary adjustments institutions can provide if the funding is there,” Williams said.

Louisiana’s four college systems are scheduled to discuss their budgeting moves with the Legislature later this month. Pay increases at Southern would be significant because its flagship campus in Baton Rouge only recently emerged from a declaration of financial emergency that allowed the school to downsize faculty and consolidate programs.

Before and after that crisis, Southern’s four other campuses routinely were compelled to step up and contribute money to keep the Baton Rouge campus out of the red.

The Baton Rouge campus has been losing between 300 and 400 students per year over the past several semesters due in part to rising tuition costs and tougher admission standards phased in by the state seven years ago.

Tuition has been rising steadily at nearly all of Louisiana’s public universities as schools have struggled to offset the state budget cuts.

This year, however, Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature found an extra $40 million to spread among each of Louisiana’s four college systems.

The extra cash helped Southern’s Baton Rouge campus balance its budget.

“In the past, we had to pool resources and our other campuses have been in a better cash position than our Baton Rouge campus,” Southern President Ronald Mason said. “The fact of it is that this year that doesn’t have to happen again.”

Without having to pool resources this year, Mason said, the other campuses have enough money in their budgets to pay for their proposed salary adjustments.

He added that the proposed pay raises shouldn’t be looked at as an entitlement.

“The reality is that we live in a competitive environment where good staff and good faculty are mobile,” Mason said. “It’s not an entitlement; it’s about maintaining competitiveness.”

Southern University at New Orleans Chancellor Victor Ukpolo has proposed an across-the-board 2 percent salary increase for all SUNO faculty and staff with an additional 1 percent salary bump to some employees based on merit.

“Our people have been working since the ’08-’09 academic year without any raises,” Ukpolo said. “And SUNO traditionally has been below our counterparts in terms of pay.”

Southern Law Center Chancellor Freddie Pitcher Jr. is proposing a 3 percent pay raise for law school employees with a select few who have taken on extra duties in line for a 4 percent salary increase.

Southern AgCenter employees stand to get the biggest increase with Chancellor Leodrey Williams proposing a 4 percent pay adjustment for all full-time employees. In his proposal letter to the board, Williams said some of his employees are “grossly underpaid.”

Southern University at Shreveport Chancellor Ray Belton has proposed $300 and $500 increases for adjunct “overload” pay where instructors are asked to teach extra sections.

Mason said he has identified about $1.2 million that he would like to use for one-time salary increases to all Baton Rouge and Shreveport campus employees.