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Another view of FAMU

Larryrivers The Gradebook and the St. Petersburg Times have covered much of the recent travails at Florida A&M University. Guest blogger Larry O. Rivers asked for the chance to weigh in. Rivers served as FAMU student body president and a member of the Board of Trustees during the 2003-2004 school year. He is currently a Ph.D. in History candidate at Vanderbilt University. Rivers can be reached at Other guest bloggers are welcome.

"Recent articles and commentary in the St. Petersburg Times have suggested that Castell V. Bryant, who recently resigned as Florida A&M University's interim president, inherited a poorly managed institution from predecessors such as Frederick S. Humphries. The facts from Humphries and Bryant's respective tenures, however, reveal a very different story.

Humphries received clean opinions from the Florida auditor general on every financial statement audit during his 16-year tenure. Bryant failed to produce even one clean state audit in 2.5 years.

Humphries left FAMU with a $22 million composite cash balance, $3 million cash positive operating budget, and $3 million surplus in athletics. Bryant racked up a $10.4 million deficit during her first year alone.

Humphries established a recruitment program that more than tripled enrollment and made FAMU the institution of choice for National Achievement Scholars. Bryant triggered the first enrollment decline in over a decade by shutting down the recruitment program and replacing it with nothing. FAMU lost over 2,000 students and suffered multi-million dollar losses in tuition, fees, and state funding.

Perhaps most importantly, Humphries always stood up for FAMU. When Florida State University tried to seize full control of the College of Engineering the two universities jointly manage, he fought back and won.  Bryant let FSU intimidate her into acquiescing to its efforts to take over the joint college.

Columnists like Bill Maxwell claim Humphries used the race card to escape accountability from his bosses. However, former State University System chancellor Charlie Reed, Humphries' direct supervisor for 12 years, adamantly denied this and stated he gave FAMU no special treatment or exceptions.  So even though several former Board of Regents members have admitted to having a guilt complex about racism that kept them from asking tough questions about FAMU, Reed did not.

Additionally, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, FAMU's accrediting body, conducted thorough reviews of the university's fiscal and academic health during Humphries' watch. It found no material weaknesses in internal control and awarded FAMU full, unconditional reaffirmation of its accreditation for two consecutive review cycles during the Humphries years.

The facts are clear. FAMU's current crises do not stem from what some call "chronic institutional dysfunction." They are rooted in recent years of poor leadership from officials like Bryant and the FAMU Board of Trustees members who protected her.

And despite Maxwell's assertions about "old-timers" resisting change, FAMU's alumni association, faculty senate, student government, as well as the Capital Outlook newspaper (published by an influential retired FAMU professor) all initially supported Bryant's appointment and her message about better management practices. Those organizations ultimately turned against her because of her reckless incompetence, despotic behavior, and attempt to sell-out the university to FSU.

Despite the counterfactual rants penned by Maxwell and others, it is encouraging to see Times writers Ron Matus and Jeffrey S. Solochek doing real journalism by cutting through Bryant's spindoctoring and cover-ups to provide a more balanced picture of FAMU's current state of affairs.

Humphries was far from perfect. But much unlike Bryant, he actually left FAMU a stronger and more prosperous institution than he found it. Incoming President James H. Ammons, a Humphries protégé, will do the same."

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:18am]


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