Mason makes contract extension demands

Southern University System President Ronald Mason Jr. won’t seek or accept an extension of his contract when it expires next year, unless certain terms he has outlined are met.

The Southern Board of Supervisors will meet Saturday, and the extension of Mason’s contract, which expires June, 30, 2015, is on the meeting’s agenda.

“Absent the terms stated in my letter to you on June 27, 2014, copied to the entire Board, I do not seek, nor will I accept, appointment to the presidency of Southern beyond June 30, 2015,” Mason wrote in a letter to the board dated Aug. 18. The letter was circulated this week by leaders of the Southern University Faculty Senate — frequent critics of Mason.

In an email to The Advocate, Mason said Wednesday that the letter is part of an ongoing conversation with the board and a reminder. “I was reminding the board that there were certain conditions that would have to be met for me to accept a reappointment, if offered,” Mason wrote.

The terms outlined in the June letter include the board agreeing to a strategic agenda to make Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus a top five historically black university and top 200 public university nationally within seven years. Mason wants the ability to hire a team of employees and consultants as he deems necessary to reach that goal.

“I will be allowed, within available resources, to bring together a team of employees and consultants, organized as I deem necessary, to do the work,” Mason wrote.

Mason has pushed for the consolidation of the president and chancellor roles at Southern University, much like LSU’s recent merger of the positions. Mason wrote he would be willing to serve in a new dual administrative role, but only for three years — no fewer, no more — in the June 27 letter.

Former Chancellor James Llorens’ contract expired at the end of June, and the Southern System board recently named longtime finance administrator Flandus McClinton Jr. to serve as interim chancellor.

The Faculty Senate, which has recently ramped up its criticism of Mason by giving him a vote of “no confidence,” discussed Mason’s Monday letter during a meeting Wednesday. The faculty members went on to adopt a resolution that asks the board “to terminate (Mason’s) employment as soon as possible.”

Mason has said the efforts against him are being driven by a vocal minority of faculty. About a dozen people were at Wednesday’s meeting.

Southern University System Board President Bridget Dinvaut couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

The board in June considered appointing Mason to a new dual administrative role on an interim basis, but members emerged from a closed meeting without taking action on the recommendation.

As president, Mason is paid $374,000 a year, plus an annual $16,000 vehicle allowance and $36,000 yearly housing allowance.

If Mason’s contract isn’t extended — either solely as president or in a new dual role — the contract stipulates that he’ll still have a job at the school as a tenured full-time professor at the Southern University Law Center, with a salary calculated as the average of the three highest-paid professors at the law school starting fall 2015.

Faculty Senate President Thomas Miller said he’s glad the board will discuss Mason’s contract this weekend, particularly amid the push to create a dual president/chancellor role.

“I can say, just from my point of view, that’s a decision that needs to be made before we can begin dealing with such things as the structure on campus,” Miller said. “There’s been a lot of confusion on campus.”

Faculty have raised concerns over salaries in Mason’s system office, as well as contracts that the university has entered under Mason.

After years of state budget constraints, Southern University is facing significant financial woes — a point Mason says supports his request for an administrative consolidation. The university is bracing for an estimated $7 million shortfall during the fiscal year that began July 1 and already has been dipping into reserves to prop up its budget in recent years. Southern University’s Baton Rouge campus and two others recently failed to meet the benchmarks outlined in the state’s 2010 GRAD Act, so it’s barred from increasing tuition to bring in more money.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.