Llorens out as SUBR chancellor

Southern University Chancellor James Llorens’ three-year run leading the Baton Rouge campus will end this summer following a 9-6 vote by Southern’s Board of Supervisors not to renew his contract.

The vote means Llorens’ last day leading Southern’s flagship campus will be June 30. Llorens took the top job in July 2011. He received a $270,000 annual pay package.

The chancellor’s job status came down to a recommendation from Southern System President Ronald Mason, who endorsed keeping Llorens for an additional year.

But Mason’s recommendation came with the caveat that Llorens work with the system office to assess how the Baton Rouge campus is being run and furthermore help the president come up with a plan to make “necessary financial and organizational changes.”

The board rejected Mason’s plan and chose to cut ties with Llorens when his contract ends.

Llorens said he made it clear to the board during an hour-long, closed-door session that he could not agree to the terms the system president laid out.

Agreeing to the president’s terms would’ve stripped him of his power, Llorens said, essentially giving the system office more authority to handle some of the day-to-day operations involved in running a campus.

“The recommendation from the president contained provisions I’m not willing to accept,” Llorens said. The president’s recommendation “would give him the authority to come to campus, meet with staff and make decisions. I told (the board) I would rather not be usurped.”

Mason countered that he wasn’t trying to take control of the Baton Rouge campus, but rather, work more closely with the university’s leadership.

“This was not about usurping,” Mason said. “I think the majority of the board felt that, as president, I have the authority to help and come up with solutions.”

“I don’t think it’s a question of what (Llorens) wasn’t doing, it was more about how much we can get done with the cooperation of the system office and the campus,” Mason added.

Immediately after the vote, four board members abruptly left the meeting, while it was still in progress, declining to explain their votes.

Many of them said they were anxious to get on the road as snowflakes began dotting the sky on a dreary day in Shreveport.

Of the board members who stayed at the meeting, Chairwoman Bridget Dinvaut, declined to comment several times, saying it was too emotional of an issue to talk about.

Darren Mire, however, defended the chancellor, arguing that Llorens took over three years ago amid a host of problems including several years of declining enrollment and state budget cuts.

“I believe that with the situation we have at Southern University, what we need is stability,” Mire said. “Jim came in at a tough time. He needed more time to right the ship.”

Southern’s Faculty Senate President Thomas Miller has clashed with the chancellor in the past, but on Friday, offered support for Llorens to keep his job.

“If there’s anything that hurts our campus, it’s turnover of leadership,” Miller said. “We get somebody in place to do a job, then we get anxious ... I think that is not a good course of action. I’ve heard constantly on campus that we need to allow the chancellor to finish the job. The fact of the matter is that the campus is moving forward.”

After initially refusing to answer questions, board member Walter Dumas explained his vote not to extend the chancellor’s contract. “I didn’t like the conditions and the restrictions the president put on him,” Dumas said. “It would be chaotic. We wouldn’t know who’s on first and who’s on second.”

Computer Science Professor Sudhir Trivedi argued that it’s time for Llorens to go. He said Llorens failed in articulating a strategic vision for Southern before adding that Southern suffered a number of public black eyes on Llorens’ watch.

A regional accrediting agency placed Southern on probation in December 2012 for what was described as insufficient data reporting that would have shown Southern was in compliance with a number of different academic standards. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on College lifted the probation June 2013 after the university provided the necessary paperwork.

In June 2013, a national organization of professors voted to censure Southern for its handling of a top-down restructuring of colleges and academic programs. It was part of a cost-cutting process undertaken after the university had declared a financial emergency.

But Llorens has also presided over a recent swing in Southern’s fortunes. The campus saw its enrollment increase last fall for the first time in nearly a decade. Llorens is further credited for his deft diplomacy, recently brokering overseas deals that have led to Southern enrolling students from Brazil and Turkey.

Additionally, a $10,000 donation he and his wife Glenda gave to jumpstart the Chancellor’s Centennial Scholarship Fund, is credited with being the spark that landed Southern a $50,000 donation from a university alumnus living in Florida.

Llorens’ supporters have maintained that any chancellor would have taken many of the same cost-cutting steps, including faculty layoffs, given the dire financial circumstances Southern has faced over the past several years.

Llorens took a circular path before catching on as the leader of the Southern System’s main campus. A political scientist and dean of Southern’s graduate school, he was passed over for the chancellor’s position in 2008.

He retired a year later and took a job as assistant chief administrative officer for Mayor-President Kip Holden.

In 2011, he was back on Southern’s campus interviewing again for the chancellor’s position, a job he eventually got against the wishes of Mason, the system president.

A number of people close to the 2011 job search concluded that Llorens’ political contacts were a big factor in him getting the job. The same people agreed, however, that he was qualified for the position.

As he left Friday’s board meeting, Llorens said he doesn’t regret his time leading the campus.

“We’re heading in the right direction,” he said. “We’ve made some significant advances, but there is still a lot more to do.”

Voting to extend the chancellor’s contract were board members:

Murphy Bell; Simone Bray; Myron Lawson; Darren Mire; Ann Smith; and Leon Tarver.

Voting against the extension were:

Board Chairwoman Bridget Dinvaut; Joe Gant; Calvin Braxton; Tony Clayton; Walter Dumas; Raymond Fondel; Willie Hendricks; Eamon Kelly; and Samuel Tolbert.