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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Ammons: "We can fix the problems"

29

March

GAINESVILLE - Florida A&M University's new president said Thursday that the school's persistent financial and accounting problems must be tackled "head on" and that he will insist on clean audits.

"Our stakeholders expect greater accountability," said James Ammons, a former FAMU provost and current chancellor of North Carolina Central University. "I am confident we can fix the problems … and turn to our core business of educating students."

Ammons' comments came just moments after the Board of Governors ratified him to be FAMU's 10th president, and a few hours after a key board member issued the most dire assessment yet of FAMU's plight. Florida's only historically black public university is "headed toward, if not in, what I would characterize as the midst of a perfect storm," said Lynn Pappas, who chairs the task force the board formed last week to watchdog FAMU finances.

Ammons, 54, faces arguably the biggest crisis in FAMU's 120-year history when he begins work in July. Only a few years ago, FAMU was outpacing Harvard in enrolling the nation's top black students and earning Time magazine's distinction as College of the Year. Now, FAMU is reeling from financial problems that flared again this month, prompting the board to take the unprecedented step of forming the task force.

Ammons also inherits a deeply factionalized campus; lawmakers angry enough to threaten a criminal investigation; and a Board of Trustees so divided it split 7-6 on the decision to hire him last month. And Pappas said Thursday that if the problems continue, they could compromise FAMU's bonding status and jeopardize its accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

"It's painful," said Ammons, a FAMU alumnus who worked at the university for years before taking the top spot at North Carolina Central. But "that's why it wasn't a tough decision for me … to come back and lend a hand."

Despite the trustees vote last month, there is high hope, even among those who did not vote for Ammons, that the Winter Haven native will be the one to finally restore FAMU to its former heights. "We're ready to work with him to make sure that FAMU prospers," said trustee George Allen, who voted for another candidate. "I believe he can be the experienced and unifying force we need," said Trustees Chairwoman Challis Lowe.

-Ron Matus, state education reporter

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:15am]

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