Southern alum sues board over refusal to extend Llorens contract

Southern University Law School alumnus Author “Hannibal” Joiner says it pains him to be suing the alma mater he loves so dearly.

But he says he felt he had no choice after Southern’s Board of Supervisors voted twice in February not to extend James Llorens’ contract as chancellor of the university’s Baton Rouge campus.

“It’s in the best interest of Southern that he stays,” Joiner, 60, said of Llorens in a recent interview. “He’s done a great job. He’s stabilized Southern.”

“I want the board to be responsive. They’re not responsive to anybody — the community, the faculty, the students, the alumni. They do whatever the heck they want to do,” Joiner added. “If this doesn’t stop, Southern will not be there for my grandchildren.”

Joiner, a Baton Rouge lawyer now pursuing a master’s degree in business administration from Southern, is asking the 19th Judicial District Court to strike down the board’s previous votes — a 9-6 tally on Feb. 8 and a sharply divided 8-7 decision on Feb. 24 — and order a third vote on the extension or renewal of Llorens’ three-year contract.

That contract is set to expire June 30.

State District Judge Mike Caldwell has scheduled a hearing May 19.

Joiner’s lawsuit, filed March 31, accuses the board of breaching Llorens’ contract by not dealing fairly with Llorens.

“The decision was not based on objective criteria,” his suit contends. “The decision was not made in good faith and fair dealing.”

Southern University spokesman Ed Pratt said Friday that the school is not commenting on the suit.

The Baton Rouge campus 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.

Llorens, in a May 2 message to “the Southern University Community” posted on the university’s website, acknowledged the challenges faced during the past few years.

“The staff endured multiple years of furloughs; faculty endured a year of furloughs; students faced yearly tuition increases, reduced course offerings, and larger class sizes; many of our colleagues lost their jobs or opted for early retirement; remaining staff and faculty assumed increased workloads and responsibilities; building maintenance was deferred for lack of funds.

“As Chancellor, the decisions necessary during these past years have been difficult,” he noted. “To the faculty, staff, and students, I say thank you for enduring and remaining committed to Southern.”

Llorens also cited several accomplishments, including a more than 40 percent increase in the fall 2013 incoming class size and a reorganization of academic programs.

Joiner said he has not spoken with Llorens about the lawsuit because Llorens still works at Southern.

“I’m not looking for anything personal,” Joiner said. “I’m not looking to get anything out of this. I want to save my school. I truly do love Southern.”

Joiner’s suit says the “preservation, stability and future of Southern University” will have an impact on his degree.

“The leadership of Southern at this time is crucial to the Southern future,” the suit adds.

The board’s decision to let Llorens walk 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.