Swagger, scholarships and budget cuts
FAMU President James Ammons touted the university's fiscal turnaround today, telling the St. Petersburg Times editorial board that recent developments have led to rising campus morale and a renewed swagger among alumni. But Ammons also warned that pending budget cuts in higher education - potentially as high as 10 percent for FAMU next year – will be devastating.
"If it went to 10 percent, we're talking about $12 million that we'll have to take out of the budget," Ammons said. "And there is no way that I could say to you or to anyone else that we will be able to maintain the quality of the overall academic experience for our students if we have to take an 8 to 10 percent cut. We would be a very different university than we are today."
Ammons' visit to the Times came as part of a marathon, 4-day trek around Florida and beyond to hand out academic scholarships and revive sagging enrollment. FAMU's enrollment fell to 11,562 last fall, its third straight year of decline and the lowest since 1997. The drop-off has coincided with a wave of highly publicized problems, including blistering financial audits, rampant factionalism and allegations of cronyism.
But Ammons said the worst is over.
In December, FAMU received the first positive financial audit in years. And last week, the special state task force that was formed to oversee its finances turned in a highly complimentary report to Gov. Crist and state lawmakers. "We think we've turned a corner," Ammons said, crediting new leadership in virtually every major administrative position.
On the downside, more budget cuts are en route. The school sliced $6.1 million from its budget this year, including $2 million because of shrinking enrollment, and did so without laying off employees or hurting academic programs. But Ammons said that won't be possible with another round of cuts: "The only thing we can hope is that somehow the economic forecasters are wrong," Ammons said. "They have been pretty consistent, though, in their doom and gloom."
For more on Ammons and FAMU, read tomorrow's St. Petersburg Times.
- Ron Matus, state education reporter