TALLAHASSEE — Florida A&M University's Board of Trustees on Thursday selected Elmira Mangum to be the school's first female president — despite objections from students, alumni and two trustees who expressed uncertainty that she is the right person for the job.
Currently vice president for budget and planning at Cornell University in upstate New York, Mangum will be tasked with leading Florida's only public black university to stronger academic and financial footing. The Board of Trustees 10-2 vote must be approved by the state Board of Governors.
Mangum, 60, said FAMU is ready to move forward after recent controversies, including the hazing death of a drum major and accreditation probation.
"We have so many positive things to talk about at FAMU, so many excellent academic programs and student support programs," she said. "We're going to focus on those and continue to strengthen them."
Mangum, who is single with three adult children, has been a vice president at Cornell since 2010. Before that, she was an associate provost at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and on the senior staff at University at Buffalo. She began her career in higher education as an instructor and professor.
She earned her bachelor's degree from North Carolina Central University, a historically black college like FAMU. Mangum also has two master's degrees from the University of Wisconsin at Madison: one in urban and regional planning and a second in public policy and public administration. She earned a doctorate in educational leadership and policy from the University at Buffalo.
Mangum is the first president in nearly 40 years to not be a FAMU alum.
"She gets it," said trustee Torey Alston. "She is competent. She is strong. Change is tough. But I absolutely stand with Dr. Mangum and I encourage my colleagues to do the same."
Spurgeon McWilliams and Glen Gilzean Jr. were the two board dissenters. McWilliams said interim president Larry Robinson has more experience than Mangum and that she gave some unsatisfactory answers during her interview process.
McWilliams also said he was disappointed to hear Mangum admit that she would not make the presidential search shortlist at her current institution.
"If she's not good enough for (Cornell), she's not good enough for me at FAMU," he said.
After the vote, McWilliams said he would support Mangum in the job.
During public comment, students and alumni urged the board to consider keeping Robinson. Board of Trustees Chairman Solomon Badger said trustees declined to reverse their decision against making Robinson a candidate.
"Dr. Robinson is a man of integrity, he is well-respected among his peers, he is passionate about the university and he has worked tirelessly to be a beacon of stability during this transition period," Badger said. "I have no doubt in my mind that he was called for such a time as this. Therefore it is indeed bittersweet that we have reached the hour where the interim president must pass the reins on to the next leader."
Mangum joins FAMU as it emerges from a period of scandal and tragedy that garnered national headlines.
The hazing death of drum major Robert Champion in November 2011 led to charges against more than a dozen band members and a yearlong suspension of the acclaimed Marching 100. Subsequent investigations exposed other academic and financial issues with the band.
By that time, state higher education officials had begun to scrutinize FAMU after learning that about a dozen audits were turned in without any actual work done to back them up.
Former FAMU president James Ammons resigned in July 2012 and Robinson, then provost, was tapped to stand in. It was the second time Robinson had served as the school's interim president.
Mangum's salary, benefits and starting date are still to be negotiated. Though she is the first woman to serve as permanent president at FAMU, Castell Bryant was interim president from 2005-2007.
Tia Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.