FAMU Board Approves President’s Restructuring Plan

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by Pearl Stewart

The Florida A&M University board of trustees on Thursday approved a major restructuring plan for the historically Black institution. University president James Ammons tied the plan to a concept of creating “the Millennial Famuan,” a globally connected, critically thinking, socially conscious adult equipped for leadership in 2020 and beyond.

The plan will result in the direct loss of 89 jobs. Another 109 employees will be laid off on June 30 because they were funded by the federal stimulus program, and 44 vacant positions will not be filled. Overall,  the multi-layered proposal, which was developed over two years and involved focus groups made up of all segments of the campus community, will merge 10 academic programs and close 24 programs.

The plan also includes a 10 percent budget reduction, with the savings being used to increase faculty salaries and improve technology and academic services. However, despite numerous assertions about the positive outcomes of streamlining and upgrading operations under the plan, students and faculty expressed intense opposition — even ridicule — against various parts of the reorganization.

For example, the plan eliminates foreign languages as majors yet emphasizes the need for globalization. Dr. Mary Diallo, an associate professor of French, commented on the closure of the French and Spanish programs. “Yesterday we learned that the foreign language department will be allowed to offer a minor but not a major … over 15 African countries have French as their official language.”

Diallo asked how much retaining those programs would cost the university, but received no answer. She also posed another rhetorical question, “How much does the Hip Hop Institute cost the university,” hitting upon a controversial point about a new program that is being developed while others are being closed.

“I think in order for us to produce this millennial student, we need millennial faculty,” said Dr. Richard Gragg, an associate professor in the environmental sciences institute. Gragg said he favored the plan, but thought faculty should be allowed more time for research.

“I’m glad to hear that Dr. Ammons has a plan to increase faculty salaries,” he said. “I don’t agree that all faculty should be making less than all of the administrators. We’re doing the research and bringing the research dollars and graduating the students, and I would like to get paid accordingly.”

Dr. Elizabeth Davenport, an associate professor of education and president of the United Faculty of Florida’s FAMU chapter, expressed many of the faculty’s concerns.

“I don’t see any sacrifices by this administration. If you’re going to ask these faculty, these secretaries, these janitors to make sacrifices, the administration also has to make sacrifices,” she said. “I have a sincere problem with a proposal that has a bunch of catchwords like the millennial student. It’s a great commercial, but what we need are competent students who graduate on time. Does the millennial student stay here 100 years?”

In response to the pointed criticism, trustee Marjorie Turnbull stressed that the restructuring “was not written in stone,” and that the issues raised in the meeting would continue to be discussed. Board vice chairman Richard Dent said a method would be established for monitoring progress in carrying out the plan.

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