Faculty challenges system chief

Ronald Mason
Ronald Mason

Southern University Faculty Senate leaders say their problems with system President Ron Mason are past the point of resolving through a sit-down meeting.

The bitter feud between Mason and some Southern University faculty members has continued to bubble over, following a unanimous Faculty Senate vote of “no confidence” and push for Mason’s ouster. It remains to be seen if or how the issues can be resolved.

During a series of emails between faculty members and Mason and during a recent Board of Supervisors meeting that stretched on for several hours, Mason suggested that the two sides come together to figure out the best path forward for the cash-strapped historically black college.

“My offer to sit and talk, in the interest of the students we serve, still stands,” Mason said in an email last week.

But leaders of the Faculty Senate have roundly rejected the offer and say any type of kumbaya session is unlikely.

“There are issues of trust and also the suspicion that he’s not acting in good faith in making this proposal,” Faculty Senate President Thomas Miller said.

The faculty leaders and Mason have sparred since shortly after he arrived at Southern University from Jackson State in 2010.

Miller said faculty don’t trust Mason’s leadership. They’ve consistently raised questions over contracts, including one with the system’s online education partner EO Serve and with hires within the SU System office.

Faculty and students also took issue with the ousting of former Baton Rouge campus Chancellor James Llorens, whose contract expired at the end of June.

During the most recent Board of Supervisors meeting, faculty again raised several of those issues.

For his part, Mason has made attempts to cool some of the tension.

With a year left on his contract, Mason has suggested that Southern should merge its president and chancellor roles to save money and strengthen the university — a plan that also has drawn the ire of skeptical faculty.

He recently presented a plan to the board to help the university gain more solid financial footing, while building its profile. It was drafted by an outside consultant, Troy Stovall, of the Ridgeland, Mississippi-based Butler Snow Advisory Firm, a former administrator under Mason at Jackson State University in Mississippi.

“There is only one Southern, and the historic insistence that there is a conflict between the system and the campus, has outlived its usefulness,” Mason said after faculty rejected his proposal to meet to discuss their conflicts. “I continue to believe that SUBR can be a top 4 HBCU, by any measure. I also believe that the more we take advantage of our uniqueness as a system, the better we will be able to compete in an increasingly competitive environment.”

Mason said the Faculty Senate’s criticisms are “so far off base” and wondered whether they “are intended to mislead” but didn’t provide specific rebuttals.

Preston Castille, president of the Southern University Alumni Federation, had offered to help facilitate a meeting between the president and his critics and “help identify areas of common ground,” Mason said.

Castille couldn’t be reached for comment on the dispute. Miller said he respects Castille but doesn’t believe that such a meeting will be productive.

“I think we should be sure that fact is separated from fiction, so that we can chart a course for the future based on accurate information,” Mason wrote, adding that he would clear time for such a meeting in the first week of August.

Separately, Mason also has suggested that all could participate in a “public forum” to discuss the various grievances, though Miller also rejected that suggestion.

“A public forum is not the proper venue to have an exchange with someone who I feel is acting in bad faith,” Miller said.

Mason has maintained in numerous statements that he has an “open door” with faculty and would have been happy to meet with them before — claims that faculty members deny. Miller said his previous attempts to meet with Mason have been rebuffed.

“This pretense that his office has always been open is just a load of malarkey,” he said.

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