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FAMU Chief Resigns, New Era Begins

  • Written by The Atlanta Daily World
  • Published in Atlanta
     On Oct. 11, just eight days after Florida A&M University will celebrate its 125th anniversary, Dr. James H. Ammons would have officially resigned from his post as university president and returned to the faculty as a tenured professor. Ammons originally announced his resignation in a July 11 letter.    However, after talking with the FAMU Board of Trustees Chairman Solomon Badger, Ammons asked the board to waive his 90-day notice and make his resignation effective during the board’s emergency meeting on July 16. Ammons will take a sabbatical before returning to the faculty.     Trustees unanimously voted to accept Ammons’ immediate resignation and voted to make FAMU’s provost Dr. Larry Robinson interim president, subject to confirmation at the board’s August meeting, to give time for trustees to “get to know” Robinson.     Trustees Marissa West (Student Government Association president) and Narayan Persaud (FAMU’s Faculty Senate president) encouraged the board to accept Robinson as the “permanent” interim president until a new president is hired because he has proven that he would be the best fit for the current  “campus environment.”     West was the trustee who presented the recommendation to name Robinson interim president. The final decision on the interim president is subject to approval by the Board of Governors. West said she pushed appointing Robinson because “now more than ever the board needs to be decisive.”     “In emergency situations you have to be ready to step up to the plate,” West said. “I’m hoping that Dr. Robinson is ready, because I’m ready to see some things change. I think Dr. Robinson understands what is important.”     Ammons’ departure will leave the university at yet another crossroad, as trustees vowed to make filling Ammons’ position a “smooth” transition, to provide stakeholders with “some stability” and not “leave things lingering.”     “I think FAMU right now needs immediate stability,” West said. “I don’t think we can afford to be left vulnerable and I think we need to ensure a very smooth transition in the upcoming days, months, weeks.”     During the July 16 meeting, the trustees were slated to outline the next steps and timeline for the presidential search process and also discuss the formation of the presidential search committee. However, Badger said those items will be taken up at the August meeting.      In response to being named interim president, Robinson told media that he was “honored to be considered.” He added, “I am just looking to do the best that I can in this interim period.”

     When asked if he could provide the stability needed at FAMU, Robinson pointed to the confidence Persaud and West expressed in his leadership and said he was “happy to have their endorsements.”

     In addition to now dealing with the search for a new president, FAMU must also face a wrongful death lawsuit that was filed (on the same day as Ammons’ letter of resignation) by the family of FAMU band drum major Robert Champion, who died after being hazed by fellow band members in November 2011.

     Also, on July 6, members of the Florida Legislature, including incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, made public their plans for a legislative  review of the university during the 2013 legislative session, which begins in March.

     Ammons, who was FAMU’s 10th president and served the university as president for five years (his first day on the job was July 2, 2007), spent his last days as president still working to move the university forward.

     In fact, during the Board of Trustees call meeting on July 11, Ammons shared with the board his excitement about the university receiving a bond approval for a $50 million-project to construct an 800-bed, suite-style residential facility, which will be completed in fall of 2013. Ammons said the project, which has been one of his personal goals while in office, would help with student retention and recruitment.

     Other milestones achieved by Ammons during his presidency include: full-accreditation of the College of Law; reaching an all-time high in enrollment in 2010; multimillion-dollar renovations of the Tucker Hall, Gore and Jones Hall classroom buildings, as well as renovating the Sampson and Young residence halls; expanding the university’s distance learning programs and launching FAMU’s first online degree programs offering master’s degrees in nursing, public health and business.

     Although Badger’s reaction to learning about Ammons’ resignation was melancholy, he applauded the president’s ability to put the best interest of the university ahead of his own.

     “I am saddened by President Ammons’ decision to resign, but it is his choice to do so,” Badger said in a statement. “Given all that has transpired, it seems to be in the best interest of the university and I applaud him for putting FAMU ahead of his personal goals.”

     In May, Ammons told the Capital Outlook that he had no intention to resign from the university because “my work is still unfinished,” and later reiterated that sentiment after eight of the then-12 BOT members voted “no-confidence” in Ammons’ leadership during a June 4 board meeting. However, Ammons explained in his resignation letter that after mulling it over he decided to “initiate his retirement.”

      “I will continue my work on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) initiatives as a tenured full professor on our great faculty,” wrote Ammons, a 1974 FAMU graduate with a master’s degree in public administration and Ph.D. in government from Florida State University.

      Prior to becoming FAMU’s president, Ammons was the chancellor of North Carolina Central University and served as FAMU’s provost and vice-president of Academic Affairs. He began his career in education as a professor at the University of Central Florida.

    During the July 16 meeting, Ammons requested the release of a promised 25 percent bonus (of his salary) for his performance during the 2010-11 academic year.  Ammons also requested a 5 percent bonus for meeting goals he and the board outlined during the 2011-2012 school year. His salary was estimated at $325,000. The board honored Ammons’ request.

   As the university’s administration begins the transition process, Trustee Cleve Warren (who did not participate in the “no-confidence” vote against Ammons because he was not appointed to the board until June 22) encouraged board members during the July 11 meeting to be “gentile and respectful” as they address Ammons’ resignation and the future of FAMU over the coming months. Badger, who did not agree with the June “no-confidence” motion, echoed that sentiment.

     The July 16 meeting was called after Trustee Rufus Montgomery, one of the eight trustees that voted yes in the “no-confidence” motion against Ammons, encouraged the board to act quickly in responding to Ammons’ resignation. He expressed his frustrations with the president during the July 11 meeting.

     “This is not about hazing, this is about leadership or lack of leadership at FAMU,” Montgomery said. “There have been over 30 serious issues over the past year that have come before this board. This all came under the watch of the current president. For the last seven months we’ve danced around it week after week, problem after problem.”

     When asked about the board’s next steps in the presidential search, Trustee Torey Alston replied: “The chairman of the board will be making that decision very soon on transitional plans and what the next steps are for leadership. My hope is – I’d like to see  us have our next permanent president on board within a year. It’s an aggressive timeline but I think that if other schools could do it in a year, I am almost certain that the board can make sure it’s done within a year.”

     Badger expressed that he also hoped to have Ammons’ position filled within a year, but said the board will not sacrifice “quality” by rushing.

     On July 11, Champion’s parents, Robert Sr. and Pam Champion, held a press conference explaining the details of the 33-page suit. The suit alleges that the university was well-aware or should have been aware of a history of a hazing culture within FAMU’s band and cites incidents as far back as 1983. 

    Due to statutory requirements, the Champions had to wait for six months before filing the suit.


Read more http://www.atlantadailyworld.com/articles/2012/07/24/adw_news/doc500ec8ba611b4394660289.txt

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