Southern University system President Ronald Mason narrowly escaped a vote of no confidence from the Faculty Senate on Friday when faculty members voted, 8-7, to skip the mostly symbolic gesture.
After the meeting, Mason called the faculty’s non-action “encouraging.”
“Usually, the votes on these kind of things are decided by the time they’re placed on the agenda,” Mason said. “This time, they decided they wanted to work together. That’s how the collegial process is supposed to work.”
The Faculty Senate, led by President Thomas Miller, has criticized Mason of late for what it perceives as his intention to take decision-making authority away from Southern’s five campus chancellors and consolidate that power within the system office.
Faculty members said Mason got authority last month from Southern’s Board of Supervisors to reclassify the director of human resources position at the Baton Rouge campus as the vice president of human resources at the system office.
During Friday’s Faculty Senate meeting, Miller implied that Mason’s previously stated support of centralizing other departments, including information and technology, under the system office is further proof the president is planning a “takeover.”
“The transfer of authority has already occurred,” Miller told the Faculty Senate. “His cover is that it’s not possible for that to have happened because it hasn’t been approved by the board ... the transfer is already complete, de facto.”
Mason maintains that centralization will eliminate duplication and save the financially troubled system much-needed money.
Nevertheless, Miller fired off an 18-item resolution spelling out reasons why the Board of Supervisors should fire Mason.
Miller accused Mason of being “unrelenting” in violating Southern’s bylaws, not limiting his role as president to policymaking and “unduly” acquiring authority over financial, business and personnel operations at the campus level.
This resolution says, “Mr. President, the Faculty Senate is demanding this transfer of power from the campuses to the system must be stopped.”
Faculty Senate Parliamentarian Diola Bagayoko added that the purpose of the resolution wasn’t to scold Mason or have him fired, but to “make a statement.”
Mason responded to the document this week, noting that Southern’s bylaws give the president broad “discretionary authority” in overseeing the system and does not restrict the position to policymaking.
“I may be unrelenting but only in my attempts to secure a brighter future for Southern,” Mason wrote in his response.
During the meeting, Faculty Senate Vice President Sudhir Trivedi led the charge against the “no confidence” vote arguing that Mason had successfully lobbied the Legislature this spring to supplement Southern’s Baton Rouge campus with $4 million, which kept the university from declaring a financial emergency two years in a row.
Trivedi further warned that Mason is owed about $1.5 million for the final three years of his contract and any attempts by the faculty to have him fired would result in Mason being “paid for nothing.”
“I’m not holding the president harmless, but these are things we should consider,” Trivedi said.