BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The president of LSU's Faculty Senate filed a complaint with the university's accrediting agency about plans to reorganize the system's leadership, saying Thursday that decision-making has been too secretive and appears rife with political meddling by the governor.
Kevin Cope said he lodged a list of criticisms with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools about an LSU Board of Supervisors decision to merge the jobs of system president and chancellor of the flagship campus in Baton Rouge.
The job consolidation is part of a planned, but still undetermined, revamp of the multi-campus university system.
Cope said his complaint was sent to the president of SACS' Commission on Colleges over the weekend.
In his letter to the Georgia-based accrediting organization, Cope criticized the LSU board as making decisions with inadequate evidence to support its position, too much input from Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration and disregard for suggestions from faculty.
"Faculty members doubt that the accreditation status of an institution (or complex of institutions) can be maintained admidst intense political influence or subsequent to a veritable circus of emergency meetings," wrote Cope, an English professor who also serves as chair of the LSU System Council of Faculty Advisors.
LSU board chairman Hank Danos didn't return a request for comment Thursday about Cope's complaint.
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled Friday to re-vote on the job merger after the attorney general's office said the previous vote appeared to have violated the open meetings law. But the board's search committee already has started looking for candidates to fill the consolidated job, suggesting the board isn't changing course.
"A governing board that receives a scolding from the highest legal official in the state is not operating with the integrity expected of a major research and education unit," Cope wrote.
William Jenkins is currently working as both interim system president and interim chancellor of the main campus.
Cope describes a heavy politicization of LSU governance, noting all Board of Supervisors members have been named by Jindal and, in many instances, are campaign contributors.
The Faculty Senate leader said in his letter to SACS that he repeatedly hears comments from university officials suggesting that decisions on campuses are made based on "instructions from the fourth floor," a reference to where the governor's office is located at the Louisiana Capitol.
Jindal spokeswoman Shannon Bates denied any meddling by the governor's office. In a statement, she said, "LSU's board makes its own decisions."
Cope's complaint also raises concerns about the influence of university donors, support groups and foundations, whose members Cope says are involved in search committees and recruitment campaigns. He called it a "corrosion of the credibility of the institution."
SACS officials have notified LSU that the job merger needs approval from its Commission on Colleges before it can be done, and they have pressed for more details about the reorganization.
Accreditation is a benchmark used to judge the worth of a school, reviewing governance, finance and integrity issues. It can affect the value of a degree in a job market and a school's ability to attract faculty and students. LSU is currently in the midst of an ongoing review to reaffirm its accreditation with SACS.
LSU leaders have said they are in compliance with accreditation standards.