Florida A&M University officials said Thursday they have made significant progress toward correcting a slew of financial problems at the historically black school.
FAMU president Fred Gainous shared the school's detailed "action plan" with the state Board of Governors, assuring members the school has brought accountability and efficiency to the Tallahassee campus.
"The plan is a good first step," said Jim Corbin, chairman of the FAMU board of trustees. "There's a long way to go But I think we are headed in the right direction."
During their lengthy questioning of Gainous and Corbin, several members of the Board of Governors said the school has made great strides since its financial crisis surfaced in December.
"Both the administration and the trustees have done 110 percent," said Miguel DeGrandy, chairman of the audit committee. "They've done a heck of a job."
That message was considerably different from the one board members delivered a few months ago, when they told Gainous to stop making excuses and fix the problems at the 13,000-student school.
Those problems included sloppy business practices that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, questionable and unapproved expenses, millions of dollars that could not be accounted for and a dysfunctional financial aid system.
The situation got so bad that state officials refused to issue paychecks to 19 top FAMU administrators until the school turned over crucial financial records. The school complied, but it was six weeks late.
Gainous attributed most of the university's problems to accounting and software issues. He said the school's financial offices had not been modernized, but assured the committee that no money was stolen or missing.
"It was not a misappropriation, but an issue of not reporting," he said.
Gainous told the Board of Governors that FAMU had completed 38 of its 149 tasks, including hiring a new financial chief and financial aid director.
But board members told Gainous he also has a public relations problem. They blamed the media, saying it treats the school differently from Florida's other universities.
The St. Petersburg Times reported two weeks ago that several members of the former state Board of Regents took it easier on FAMU, or granted requests not available to other schools, in part because they had become wary of the school's emphasis on race.
Much of that dynamic, they say, took root during the long tenure of former FAMU president Frederick Humphries, who often used race as a lobbying tool or let alumni and legislators do it for him.
"I want to officially go on record today that I am treatingFAMU like every other university," said Castell Bryant, a board member and FAMU graduate. "We are not doing FAMU any good by not expecting them to live up to standards others have to. It's almost insulting to me."
FAMU trustees have hired a consultant to evaluate Gainous, and will use that evaluation to determine whether he should remain on the job. The school also will update the Board of Governors on its progress at a meeting in April.
"FAMU is going to survive. We will continue to lead this nation with African-American graduates," state Rep. Ed Jennings, D-Gainesville, said at the meeting.
In other action, the board endorsed Gov. Jeb. Bush's recommendation to increase university tuition 7.5 percent for in-state, undergraduate students and 12.5 percent for out-of-state and graduate students. The proposal must be approved by state lawmakers.
Board broaches idea of more medical schools
GAINESVILLE _ The Board of Governors had a workshop Thursday on whether there is a need for more doctors in Florida.
Florida International University plans to file a formal request next month seeking the board's approval to open a medical school, while trustees at the University of Central Florida have started examining a similar possibility.
Florida has public medical schools at the University of Florida, the University of South Florida and Florida State University. The University of Miami operates a private medical school.
Dr. Robert Watson, senior associate dean for education affairs at the University of Florida College of Medicine, said that with the state's aging population and the aging of its physicians, "Florida will need additional future physicians."
But, he said, new medical schools may not be the best way to increase the physician supply.
The board plans to conduct another session on the subject in February.