Board denies Mason contract extension

The Southern University System could be in the market for a new leader soon.

On Saturday, the Southern Board of Supervisors voted overwhelmingly against a proposed one-year contract extension for embattled system President Ronald Mason. Mason’s contract expires June 30, 2015.

“It’s unproductive when the board and administration are in an adversarial role,” said the Rev. Joe Gant, a member of the board who voted against Mason’s extension. ”We’ve got to make an effort. There’s a culture here that we’ll have to change.”

Faculty leaders have been pushing for Mason’s ouster, and at least one member of the board called for his resignation this week.

Mason said he wouldn’t have accepted a contract extension and didn’t want one because the board didn’t agree to his list of demands that would have given him more power to work on a strategy for the future of the cash-strapped historically black university.

“You haven’t accepted those conditions,” he told the board.

The board spent more than an hour behind closed doors discussing the proposed extension before rejecting the proposal. Several faculty had earlier spoken against Mason at the board meeting.

Faculty Senate President Thomas Miller said the faculty leaders had wanted the immediate termination of Mason’s contract.

“We need somebody who can build public trust,” Miller said. “It would be, I think, even fiscally beneficial to Southern to start a new course with a new president immediately.”

Board member the Rev. Samuel Tolbert on Wednesday called for Mason’s immediate resignation after Mason sent a letter to board members saying he wouldn’t seek or accept an extension unless certain demands were met. Tolbert said during Saturday’s meeting that Mason had told him that he needed to know whether his contract would be extended because he was being sought out by other universities.

Mason come to Southern University in 2010 after leading Jackson State — Mississippi’s largest HBCU, or historically black colleges and universities — for a decade.

Prior to his tenure at Jackson State, Mason held several positions at Tulane University, including senior vice president, general counsel and vice president for finance and operations.

Similar to a push back he faced before leaving Jackson State’s campus, Mason has faced a vote of “no confidence” from Southern University faculty, who have questioned his leadership, hiring decisions and contracts.

Albert Samuels, professor and head of the political science department, said he believes Mason has a “reverse Midas touch.”

“This administration is an obstacle to the university moving forward,” Samuels said.

As president, Mason is paid $374,000 a year, plus an annual $16,000 vehicle allowance and $36,000 yearly housing allowance.

Despite the rejection of an extension, Mason’s 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.

Just minutes after rejecting the extension, the board honored Diola Bagayoko, an award-winning physics professor who happens to be one of Mason’s most prominent critics. The recognition came as part of a series of resolutions honoring people who have brought positive attention to Southern University.

Raife Smith, an electrical engineering professor, said faculty members feel they aren’t appreciated by the administration.

“There’s a lot of frustration and even anger in the way that faculty are ignored,” he said. “We need a leader that understands the two things a university produces — students and knowledge through research. The faculty produces both of those things.”

Mason’s departure would leave the system in need of a new president, as well as a new chancellor for the flagship Baton Rouge campus.

Mason has pushed for a merging of the system president and flagship Baton Rouge campus chancellor roles. The board in June considered a proposal to put Mason in the dual administrative job on an interim basis but didn’t approve that plan. Longtime finance administrator Flandus McClinton Jr. is serving indefinitely as interim chancellor, while the system board weighs its options for moving forward.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp.