Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

FAMU savior investigated in North Carolina for old school ties

Since taking charge 13 months ago, Florida A&M University President James Ammons has cleaned up his troubled school's finances, mollified angry lawmakers and removed the year-long stain of probation from FAMU's name. His upcoming inauguration is billed as befitting a native son who "saved the institution from ruin."

But now FAMU's savior is in hot water.

In another state.

University system officials in North Carolina are investigating why, under Ammons' leadership in 2004, North Carolina Central University set up a small satellite campus inside an Atlanta-area megachurch without getting approval from trustees, the state's higher education board or accreditors. NCCU ended the program in June, leaving 39 students in limbo, after officials with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) raised concerns about faculty quality.

Ammons, NCCU's chancellor from 2001 to 2007, accepted blame. In an Aug. 13 statement to the Raleigh News & Observer, which broke the story Aug. 10, he said it was up to other top NCCU officials to make sure the L.I.F.E. College program at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church was properly vetted.

But "whatever the circumstances, it was a grave oversight," he continued. "It was ultimately my responsibility."

North Carolina officials are not satisfied.

An investigation is under way to "determine and evaluate the facts related to the establishment and operation of NCCU degree programs" at New Birth, wrote Joni Worthington, spokeswoman for the North Carolina university system, in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times. "That certainly includes an examination of why officials in leadership positions at the time did not follow clearly established policies, processes, and protocols."

FAMU Trustees Chairman Bill Jennings said he was "not overly concerned about what happened up there."

"I'm concerned about (Ammons') performance over the past 12 months at A&M," he said. "And it's really been outstanding."

To date, the North Carolina story has received scant media attention in Florida. But it does have a Florida twist: The powerful and controversial pastor who is central to it, Bishop Eddie Long, was elected last month to the FAMU Foundation board of directors. The foundation raises, invests and administers private donations for FAMU.

For Ammons, the timing isn't good.

FAMU supporters celebrated statewide when SACS announced two months ago that it was taking FAMU off probation. The move sent a strong signal that FAMU had finally put to rest the sloppy accounting and lax oversight that had spawned blistering audits for years.

But just as Ammons was impressing accreditors with his work at FAMU, they were raising red flags at NCCU.

According to the News & Observer, NCCU failed to notify SACS about the new satellite campus — even though SACS rules require it. In his statement, Ammons suggested "transitional issues" in key departments played a role in what happened.

Adding to the shock: Ammons' reputation as a SACS expert. As a former member of the SACS Commission on Colleges, Ammons chaired several accreditation teams that reviewed whether universities were up to snuff.

The presence of Bishop Long adds to the intrigue, too.

With 25,000 members, Long's church is one of the nation's biggest. His ministry is lucrative. His lifestyle, lavish. And all of those things have brought unwanted attention.

Long is one of six megachurch ministers being investigated by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, for possibly misusing the tax-exempt status of religious organizations.

In 2005, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that one of Long's charities made $3.1-million in donations over four years — while providing him with $3.07-million in salary, benefits and property, including a $1.4-million home, use of a $350,000 Bentley automobile and, in one year, $494,000 in salary.

"We're not just a church, we're an international corporation," Long told the newspaper. "We're not just a bumbling bunch of preachers who can't talk and all we're doing is baptizing babies. I deal with the White House. I deal with Tony Blair. I deal with presidents around the world."

Long has been generous to his alma mater, too. An NCCU graduate and trustee, he has contributed at least $1.4-million to the school, the News & Observer reported, with $1-million of that coming this month.

Ammons told the Raleigh paper he never talked with Long about the satellite campus. But he said the New Birth program gave NCCU a chance to partner with the pastor and expand into a new market. About 25 students have earned degrees there.

"We saw a need in the community at that time and tried to fill it," he wrote.

Back in Florida, Board of Governors Chairwoman Sheila McDevitt could not be reached for comment Wednesday and BOG spokesman Bill Edmonds declined to comment.

Worthington, the North Carolina spokeswoman, said it's unclear when the investigation will be finished. But "it will be thorough and complete," she said, "and we will be transparent and forthcoming with the findings."

Ron Matus can be reached at or (727) 893-8873.

FAMU savior investigated in North Carolina for old school ties 08/20/08 [Last modified: Sunday, August 24, 2008 10:02am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. LaVar Ball appears at WWE event, son LaMelo uses slur


    LOS ANGELES  -- LaVar Ball has brought his Big Baller Brand from the basketball court to the wrestling ring. 
    The outspoken father of NBA Draft No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball showed up with the newly-minted Los Angeles Laker and another son, 15-year-old son LaMelo, for a live segment on Monday's "WWE …

    LaVar Ball took off his shirt during a WWE broadcast.
  2. Facing defections, Senate GOP leaders delay health care vote


    WASHINGTON — In a bruising setback, Senate Republican leaders are delaying a vote on their prized health care bill until after the July 4 recess, forced to retreat by a GOP rebellion that left them lacking enough votes to even begin debating the legislation, two sources said Tuesday.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., center, talks with his chief of staff Sharon Soderstrom, right, and communications staff director Antonia Ferrier, left, as they walk to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, June 26, 2017. Senate Republicans unveil a revised health care bill in hopes of securing support from wavering GOP lawmakers, including one who calls the drive to whip his party's bill through the Senate this week "a little offensive." [Associated Press]
  3. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and estranged wife Carole put Beach Drive condo on the market

    Real Estate

    ST. PETERSBURG — U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and his estranged wife, Carole, have put their Beach Drive condo on the market for $1.5 million.

    Former Florida Gov. and current U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and his estranged wife, Carole, have put their condo in downtown St. Petersburg on the market for $1.5 million. [Courtesy of Rhonda Sanderford]
  4. Florida man sits in jail 90 days when drywall powder is mistaken for cocaine (w/video)


    OVIEDO — A Florida man spent 90 days in jail after police officers who stopped him for driving without headlights said white powder found in his car was cocaine.

    Karlos Cashe spent 90 days in jail after Oviedo police officers who stopped him for driving without headlights said white powder found in his car was cocaine. But he walked out of jail last week after lab results determined the powder in the handyman's car was actually drywall. [Photo from video] 

  5. Cal Foote said it's 'starting to feel more real'


    Cal Foote was picked 14th overall by the Lightning in the NHL Draft.