Mason Raises Stakes in Fight for Southern’s Survival

If faculty, alumni and students at Southern University thought the answer to the SU System’s problems was the removal of President Ronald Mason, then those stakeholders now face a multitude of questions about their role in righting the nation’s flagship historically Black system of higher education.

Mason recently alerted the SUS Board of Supervisors that he will not seek or accept an extension of his contract, scheduled to end in June 2015, without a commitment to resources and regulatory oversight necessary for the system’s future sustainability, according to the Baton Rouge Advocate.

Apparently, Mason can walk away from the devastating budget cuts, Baton Rouge’s infamous sociopolitical culture, and divided ranks among faculty and alumni. But if he does leave and doesn’t look back, what will be the survival plan for those opponents who stay?

In the last few weeks, Mason has been the target of frequent and pointed criticism from the System’s Faculty Senate, a group which has challenged Mason in public meetings, voted no-confidence in his leadership, and is currently seeking his immediate resignation. Much of its angst stems from Mason’s implementation of online degree programs, and an effort to consolidate the operations of the system and the Baton Rouge campus, a move he has described as necessary for cost-saving and management efficiency.

The Faculty Senate’s crowning manifesto is a response to a Mason proposal asking the system supervisors to define and commit to a singular vision for the system, and to begin plans for how to secure the resources for its development. That document, along with all previous denouncement of Mason’s leadership, have generally been authored by roughly 15 faculty members which now compose its ranks. And according to officers of the senate, only 10 of its members were present for the vote of no-confidence.

You read that right; 10 people out of hundreds of faculty members throughout five campuses collectively put the president of the system on the clock to get the hell out of Baton Rouge.

In response, the founding member of the SU Faculty Senate, Dr. William Moore, recently wrote to board members about his view of the Jaguar Jedi.

The Faculty Senate as a representative group is almost nonexistent. This body is supposed to consist of more than 30 members, but it has disintegrated to 13. This means that a large segment of the university is not represented. In addition, there is no avenue for input from the faculty. The effect is that we have three people claiming to be an executive committee, but when their actions reach the press it leaves the reader with the impression of a faculty vote of no confidence.

I am troubled by this state of affairs because 41 years ago, we devoted an extraordinary amount of energy to create a body that was respected by faculty as well as the administration and Board. The present group is out of control and is potentially hoodwinking the press and public in general.

I am recommending that the Board do some investigating, especially if it is inclined to listen to this group.

Sincerely, William E. Moore Founding Faculty Senate President Retired Distinguished Professor of Chemistry

While the Faculty Senate’s response is long on complaints, criticism and putdowns, it falls well-short on proposed solutions or alternatives to current recommendations by the SUS administration. Among its discernible solutions:

  • The System and the System President’s role should be narrowed to three (3) primary functions: (a) to raise money and promoting public good will for the member institutions within the System, (b) coordinate a legislative strategy for the system, and (c) to evaluate the performance of the chancellors and make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. Limiting the System to these tasks will eliminate their tendency to unnecessarily duplicate the functions of the campus administrations…

  • The faculty, staff, alumni, and community stakeholders must hold the campus administration accountable for the fiscal and academic well-being of SUBR.

Clearly, the Faculty Senate demands financial and managerial autonomy for each of the system’s institutional members. In utopian circumstances, this would be the solution for all Black colleges, and especially for the world’s only historically Black system.

But in a state where the system is under daily covert and apparent attack from legislative enemies as high as the governor himself, is there any real benefit in each campus having the singular opportunity to make and break its own finances? To help or hurt its own political currency? To advocate for its own right to expand and create for Black students and the state of Louisiana?

And how has the Baton Rouge campus fared without the dual role of the president-chancellor? Financial exigency, two board votes to remove James Llorens, and enrollment dips and recoveries would suggest that its recent years of leadership independence haven’t been its best.

For all of the opposition to Mason and his leadership, it seems to be lost on the agitating groups that he remains as president by the will of the Board of Supervisors. He remains as its primary voice, fundraiser, policy advisor and political liaison between the campuses and the statehouse.

If Mason was as bad as so many have made him out to be, then how does a board with all of the data, dollars and details on Southern’s struggles, miss what those without the numbers seem to firmly grasp?

In an era where HBCU presidents are fired or resigning seemingly every three months, what has made Mason bulletproof in Baton Rouge? And if he is, why has the board escaped public criticism for the system’s struggles and retention of the man allegedly responsible for Southern’s downfall?

Opponents can’t have it both ways; they can’t hold Mason singularly responsible for Southern’s woes and let the Board, a group that has long maintained a peculiar relationship with terms like ‘conflict of interest’ and ‘integrity,’ off the hook.

Everybody seems to be in a holding pattern for what Southern’s next steps will be, but what happens when the one person who has moved in every which direction for Southern’s success, readies his next move to be an exit plan?