New vote, same result: Chancellor Llorens still out at Southern University

Southern University Chancellor James Llorens can’t seem to find enough support to keep his job. Southern’s Board of Supervisors voted 8-7 Monday not to extend the chancellor’s contract.

It means Llorens was one shy of the nine votes he needed to continue leading Southern’s Baton Rouge campus.

As it stands, his last day as chancellor will be June 30.

This is the second time this month the board voted against keeping Llorens in place as chancellor. The board previously voted 9-6 on Feb. 8 in Shreveport to let Llorens walk. That decision was met with a loud outcry from Llorens supporters and students who organized a rally, circulated an online petition and staged a sit-in to support the popular chancellor.

Monday’s vote came about after board members used a rule that says a special meeting can be called provided five board members request it in writing. Still, 17 days between meetings was not enough for Llorens’ supporters to sway enough board members to offer him a new contract or extend his current one.

During the meeting, current and former students, faculty leaders and officers with the university’s national alumni association all offered passionate pleas to keep a chancellor who has developed a seemingly airtight rapport with the Southern community as someone who is highly visible and approachable.

After the vote, Llorens sounded as if he’s accepted that his three-year run leading Southern’s flagship campus is coming to an end.

“Anything that happens from here on out … I don’t anticipate the board taking this matter up again,” Llorens said.

Like the vote earlier this month, Monday’s decision on Llorens was not a simple up-or-down vote to keep him on as chancellor. There was a lot of procedural wrangling as the board waded through a motion, a substitute motion and then went back to the original motion.

It started when board members went into a closed-door session lasting more than two hours. Board members emerged from those private discussions to vote on a contract extension that was more restrictive than the one rejected a few weeks prior, during the board’s Shreveport meeting.

That Feb. 8 vote was based on a recommendation from Southern System President Ronald Mason that called for Llorens’ contract to be extended for one year provided that he assist the System Office in conducting an evaluation of the Baton Rouge campus to be completed by May 31. The second part of the recommendation called for Llorens to help Mason come up with “necessary financial and organizational changes” no later than July 1, which would then be recommended to the board.

Monday’s motion offered by board member Tony Clayton included the same language from the previous motion but placed the following extra conditions on Llorens:

Continue the upward trajectory of Southern’s enrollment.

Balance the campus’ budget.

Meet the performance measures spelled out in the 2010 LA GRAD Act law.

Resolve any outstanding issues the campus has with the NCAA and a regional accrediting agency.

After the failure of a substitute motion offered by Student Government Association President Simone Bray, the board also rejected Clayton’s motion.

The result effectively leaves things where they were roughly three weeks ago after the board’s Shreveport meeting — a divided board and a soon-to-be vacant chancellor’s position on the Baton Rouge campus.

Most board members left immediately after the meeting without talking to reporters.

Just looking at the “yes” versus “no” votes does little to clear up some of the confusion surrounding the issue.

There is a perception by some at Southern that Mason wants to meddle in the affairs of the Baton Rouge campus. Board members have not said whether they were voting against Mason having that extra authority, or voting against keeping Llorens.

What does seem clear is that Llorens and his supporters did not have the necessary nine votes to either extend Llorens’ contract or offer him a new one.

After the vote, Mason said his intention has never been to meddle in the affairs of Southern’s five campuses.

The Baton Rouge campus, specifically, has been on shaky financial footing for the past several years because of falling enrollment and year-after-year state budget cuts to higher education.

While many believe there is a not-so-subtle power struggle going on between the president and chancellor, Mason has maintained that he is only offering help to a struggling campus, and not trying to usurp Llorens’ authority.

“This is not about oversight; that was never the issue,” he said. “This is about more manpower, more brainpower … being all hands on deck.”

Mason later said he expects Southern to soon get started on a national search to find Llorens’ replacement.

Voting to extend the chancellor’s contract were board members Murphy Bell, Darren Mire, Leon Tarver, Myron Lawson, Calvin Braxton, Simone Bray, Ann Smith and Tony Clayton.

Voting against the extension were board Chairwoman Bridget Dinvaut, Eamon Kelly, Raymond Fondel, Mike Small, Joe Gant, Walter Dumas and Willie Hendricks.

Board member Samuel Tolbert was absent.