Southern board names interim chancellor

Longtime administrator takes charge as board mulls merging of positions

A longtime Southern University finance administrator will serve as the campus’s interim chancellor until the system’s governing board decides how to fill the permanent post.

Flandus McClinton Jr., who has served as vice chancellor for finance and administration since 1998, takes the helm this week but will also retain his vice chancellor duties, serving in a temporary dual role while the board weighs more permanent position-merging options. Embattled former Chancellor James Llorens’ contract expired Monday.

With Southern University facing mounting financial hurdles — among the latest, figuring out how to address a potentially dangerous road closure on campus — some have moved for the Board of Supervisors to merge the system president and main campus chancellor roles, much like LSU did nearly two years ago.

During a meeting earlier this month, board members weighed a proposal that would have put system President Ron Mason in a dual president/acting chancellor role on a trial basis. The board emerged from a closed door meeting after debating the Mason idea for more than an hour on June 11 but, ultimately, took no action.

The board on Monday unanimously approved the temporary dual role for McClinton, despite some vocal objections from faculty, students and staff concerned at what they perceive as a lack of emphasis on the job and McClinton’s inexperience on the academic side.

“SUBR needs and deserves its own leader,” said Student Government Association President Nicholas Wayne Harris.

Despite those concerns, Mason said he plans to work with McClinton to better the university.

“I think he’ll do a good job,” Mason said.

McClinton, a soft-spoken accountant by trade, said his focus will continue to be the financial struggles at Southern, but he’ll be seeking “input, participation and support from our students, faculty, alumni and the entire Jaguar Nation.”

“One of the main things we are concerned about right now is finance,” he said, adding that his 40-plus years of college experiences has had him working closely with academics.

It remains to be seen what the board will do with the chancellor position for the long-haul, or whether Mason can cobble together support on the board to be named to a president/chancellor job. On Monday, the Board of Supervisors rejected a proposal to let him take on the dual role on an interim basis before giving the interim position to McClinton.

The search for a new chancellor has been temporarily placed on hold while the board tries to decide whether the president and chancellor positions should be merged and, if so, who should serve in that role.

Mason’s contract as system president runs up July 30, 2015. He’s 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 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.

The ongoing financial struggles at Southern have been well-documented, and some have sought out the merging of some duplicated system and flagship administrative offices as a way to cut back.

Last week, it was revealed that three campuses — SUBR, Southern University at Shreveport and the Southern University Law Center — didn’t meet the “student success” benchmarks outlined in Louisiana’s GRAD Act, so those campuses can’t raise tuition this year and will lose out on some additional state funding.

Vice President for Finance and Business Affairs Kevin Appleton recently told the SU board that the system has been propping up its budget by pulling millions from reserves.

During a meeting last week, the Louisiana Board of Regents, which oversees the higher education boards, discussed a collapsed road on the Southern University campus and the university’s ongoing struggle to find funding to cover those repairs.

Board of Regents member Richard Lipsey said he went to view the failed portion of E.C. Harris Drive and the unpaved alternate route that students and others must take around it. He described the situation as “very, very dangerous” and said things will only get worse with each rain.

“It’s worse than it looks,” he said. “It would be difficult for a fire truck to get to the dormitory area in this current state.”

He said estimates have put the repairs at about $2 million to $2.5 million.

The Board of Regents granted SU authority to seek funding from the Interim Emergency Board, a state fund dedicated to emergency repairs on state properties, but the fund currently has about $1.7 million, per the Division of Administration.

Mason said Monday that other funding sources are being sought out, including though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Division of Administration.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of the Louisiana Legislature, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog.