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FAMU president: Alumni likely to seek resignation

Published September 9, 2004

Florida A&M University president Fred Gainous said Wednesday that he expects alumni to demand his resignation next week after two tumultuous years at the historically black school.

Gainous said he doesn't know how much support he will get from the FAMU board of trustees, which threatened to fire him five months ago after numerous financial and administrative problems came to light.

Trustees chairman Jim Corbin refused to say whether he wants Gainous to resign, but said the alumni should be heard. He said Gainous needs to stop blaming previous administrations for the school's many problems.

"You've got to take responsibility," Corbin said. "This is the big leagues. ... He needs to suck it up."

Gainous said some of the opposition he is facing apparently stems from misperceptions that he and Gov. Jeb Bush want to merge FAMU with nearby Tallahassee Community College or Florida State University. Both schools are predominantly white.

"You're dealing with paranoia and deliberate deceit," Gainous said in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times editorial board.

Corbin said he was baffled by many of Gainous' comments, including his assertion that he is getting less support from the board's nine black members than the other four - three whites and a Hispanic.

But trustee Barney Bishop, who is white, said Corbin and three other black board members are trying to force Gainous, who also is black, from the 13,000-student Tallahassee school.

"There is a drumbeat," he said. "They're trying to run him out of town. They've been on the president's neck since he got here."

FAMU made national headlines last year after the Times reported that one of the nation's best-known historically black universities was mired in a financial mess with roots that stretch back more than a decade.

The problems included sloppy business practices that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, questionable and unapproved expenses and a dysfunctional financial aid system.

Gainous, 57, said those problems are rooted in the 16-year tenure of his predecessor, Frederick Humphries, who ran FAMU with an iron fist.

"If anyone had told me that the university needed engineering to the extent that it does, I would not have believed it," said Gainous, a FAMU graduate who ran Alabama's community college system before being hired in 2002.

State and school officials agree Humphries was responsible for many problems, but Corbin said Gainous can't blame Humphries for the most recent trouble: a scathing audit expected to be released this month on the university's operations during the past year.

Corbin also faults Gainous for the recent resignation of FAMU's well-regarded pharmacy school dean, who complained about a lack of administrative support, and the failure to name a new dean of the high-profile business school.

"That has nothing to do with decades of problems," Corbin said. "He's being disingenuous."

Humphries, who now leads a Washington, D.C., organization that supports the nation's historically black schools, has repeatedly denied that he left the school in the lurch.

Corbin, whose term as trustees chairman expires in January, said he will allow Alvin Bryant, the newly elected president of the National Alumni Association, to speak about Gainous at a trustees meeting Tuesday.

"This is an organization that is most productive in helping the university," Corbin said. "It is made up of all the people who made us who we are."

Gainous, who made $275,000 last year, said the alumni has no business calling for his resignation, but said he will respond to the complaints at the meeting.

"I think that's well beyond the scope of an alumni association," he said. "Their task is to support the mission of the university."

Bryant, who lives in Hampton, Va., declined to comment until after Tuesday's meeting. An online petition calling for Gainous' resignation, which is supported by some alumni, has been signed by 1,500 people.

Love Collins, Gainous' vice president for development, said some of the signatures are not valid because they are for people who are dead or never existed.

Gainous' problems with the board began last year, after state officials refused to issue paychecks to top FAMU administrators until the school turned over crucial financial records. The school eventually complied but missed its deadline by several weeks.

Gainous said the university has improved since then. It has upgraded its accounting and technology and carried over $9-million from last year.

Gainous said it will take six to eight years to turn the university around.

"It can't stay like it was a year ago and survive. Flat out cannot," Gainous said. "In the midst of the re-engineering, there is confusion, there is pain, there is a struggle."

Gainous, who once said he couldn't imagine working anywhere but FAMU, said Wednesday that he doesn't know how long he will stay.

"I am until I'm no more."

[Last modified September 9, 2004, 01:10:15]

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