ST. PETERSBURG — Dr. James Ammons, president of Florida A&M University, had reason to smile Wednesday evening after the progress he has led at the university.
Though the school continues to work through many of the problems that have plagued it, he still called on alumni and supporters to invest more in the future of FAMU.
"This institution could've fallen and that would've been the greatest tragedy," Ammons said. "Now we're determined to show people we can handle our business."
The reception at St. Petersburg Country Club was attended by 70 alumni, supporters, Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and city officials, including Mayor Rick Baker, Deputy Mayor Goliath Davis, council Chairman James Bennett and District 4 council member Leslie Curran.
Fresh off awarding seven scholarships to area students in a ceremony at Gibbs High School, Ammons was presented with a key to the city by the council for his work with FAMU and the impact it has in St. Petersburg.
Wearing a green and orange tie, Ammons discussed how far the university has come in the past year, praising his staff and the alumni for their support. He also warned how much the state budget cuts could harm FAMU's future and its progress. That's why he said he was appealing to graduates and supporters to reach out to the university.
"Too much is at stake at FAMU with these budget cuts," Ammons said. "FAMU now needs you as part of an investment strategy. If something happens to FAMU, future generations will hold us accountable if it's on our watch."
The importance of improving the "quality of experience" for students and faculty is key, Ammons said.
"Some fought for freedom, some had dreams, and many went to work for a better life," Ammons said. "For many African-Americans in Florida, that better life came because of FAMU. The university led the development of the African-American middle class in Florida, so we need to continue to work toward a better FAMU."
Donald Rutledge, president of the Upper Pinellas/Clearwater chapter of the FAMU National Alumni Association, said he recognized the importance of strong alumni support and was impressed by Ammons' performance over the past year.
"I think they turned the corner on handling the problems and putting in strong procedures to make sure it doesn't happen again," Rutledge said. "I think once prospective students see that, academically, the university is strong … I used to tell them, 'We'll get through that.' That's why he's been going around the state talking about the changes."
Ammons said he had been looking forward to meeting members of the community and seeing old friends. He also addressed his approval of the new dean at the FAMU law school and the recent new hires.
"It's an exciting time at FAMU," Ammons said. "New Dean LeRoy Pernell is tapping into his network to build a new faculty. … The new ones have impeccable credentials
Commissioner Welch, a 1987 FAMU graduate, said he has been keeping track of the progress Ammons has made at the university and what he has seen bodes well for FAMU's future. "He's instilled calmness in the organization," he said. "People feel he will be the leader for the long term. … He's restarting the commitment to excellence that is the bedrock of FAMU."
Dagny Salas can be reached [email protected] or (727) 893-8872.