SU faculty spar with Mason over college finances

The leaders of Southern University’s Faculty Senate say system President Ron Mason is to blame for the cash-strapped school’s financial woes and other problems.

The group went public with its complaints on campus Thursday in front of the library, raising questions over Mason’s latest proposal to merge the president and campus chancellor jobs, which he says will save money.

The group, which recently took a vote of “no confidence” in Mason, is calling for Mason’s removal and more autonomy for the colleges in the Southern system, including reclaiming the now-centralized recruitment and enrollment efforts.

“We say that he is the problem,” Faculty Senate Vice President Albert Samuels said of Mason.

Mason has dismissed the group’s efforts as “a last-minute attempt to muddle the issue with misinformation, half-facts and innuendo.”

“I am not the chancellor of the Baton Rouge campus. I was not invited to the meeting, and therefore, did not have the opportunity to participate in any discussion that took place,” Mason said in a statement. “As usual, my door is always open to discuss and clarify the misstatement of facts and misunderstanding of roles and responsibilities evidenced in what is presented as a SUBR Faculty Senate Resolution. In the meantime, I am working with our board, system and campus leadership to move Southern University forward.”

There’s no question that Southern University — the Baton Rouge campus, in particular — is struggling financially. The school has been dipping into reserves to prop up its budget in recent years. It 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. The public, historically black university is bracing for an estimated $7 million shortfall during the fiscal year that began July 1.

The fight between Mason and faculty members is over how those financial issues should be addressed.

Mason is expected to make a presentation at this week’s Board of Supervisors meeting that will outline proposals to “stabilize and revitalize” Southern University. It includes a recommendation to combine the president/chancellor jobs, which Mason has said will eliminate duplications and make the university more efficient.

His 18-slide presentation to the board also will propose that Southern University’s campuses move “back office” operations, such as finance, human resources and information technology, to the system to save money. It says Southern University should focus more on building up its brand to attract more students, too. Long-term goals are to become one the top five HBCUs in the country and a recognized leader in education.

The faculty disagree with Mason’s plan and question its creation. It was developed by Ridgeland, Miss.-based Butler Snow Advisory Group. Mason is the former president of Jackson State University, and his former vice president of finance at JSU now works for Butler Snow.

Faculty argue it’s the system headquarters that should be pared back, returning more authority to individual campuses.

“We have to look at our fiscal house and put it in order,” said Southern University Faculty Senate President Thomas Miller.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to review a separate proposal to cut system office salaries by 20 percent for those who make more than $60,0000. Mason’s salary would drop from $374,000 to $299,020, while his chief of staff, Evola Bates, would see a decrease from $150,000 to $120,000.

Samuels, the faculty group’s vice president, said he doesn’t trust the system office to handle more centralized tasks, as Mason has proposed, and claimed that its oversight of enrollment services hasn’t gone well.

“His plan assumes the system has adequately handled the things it’s in charge of,” Samuels said. “Everything they have touched, they have ruined.” Mason responded point-by-point via email Thursday to the Faculty Senate’s 12-point list of questions over his presentation.

In it, Mason also argues the presentation isn’t a “plan.”

“It is a presentation that proposes a strategic direction,” he wrote. “A plan will be developed once the board approves a strategic direction.”

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