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FAMU trustees vote to fire president

By ANITA KUMAR
Published September 29, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - The Florida A&M University board of trustees fired president Fred Gainous on Tuesday, citing two tumultuous years riddled with financial and administrative problems.

In a heated meeting, the trustees voted 9-4 to terminate Gainous' contract Jan. 1 unless members vote unanimously before then to retain him. Several trustees said that scenario would require a "miracle."

The governing board decided to remove Gainous after listening to graduates and alumni question his leadership of the historically black school.

"We are bleeding profusely," said trustee Challis Lowe, an executive at Ryder System Inc. in Miami. "We can't wait another two years. We can't even wait another two months to get this university back on track. We must take action now."

Gainous, a Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University graduate who was named president in 2002, was stoic during the three-hour debate, speaking only when asked. Afterward, he made a quick call to his family and declined to answer most questions.

"I'm 57 years old," Gainous said. "I'm not surprised about anything."

Students and faculty lined the meeting room as word spread on campus that Gainous' job was on the line. The scene inside was raucous, with audience members shouting and trustees lashing out at each other.

"The removal of a president is a serious and grave matter," said trustee Barney Bishop, a Tallahassee lobbyist and Gainous supporter. "This is going to have repercussions for years and years."

The last several years already have been difficult for FAMU, a 13,000-student school that in 1997 was named the nation's college of the year by Time magazine and the Princeton Review.

The St. Petersburg Times reported last year that FAMU was mired in a financial mess with roots that stretch back to the presidency of Frederick Humphries, who ran the school for 16 years. The problems included sloppy business practices that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, questionable and unapproved expenses and a dysfunctional financial aid system.

But on Tuesday, trustees and alumni blamed Gainous for a laundry list of more recent problems.

They include a delay in moving FAMU's football team to NCAA Division I-A and the school being stripped of 11 conference titles by the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Key deanships in the colleges of pharmacy and business have gone unfilled. A new state audit says the school spent millions of dollars that were not budgeted or available.

Many faculty members turned against Gainous after he tried to create a program that would have required FAMU professors to teach at nearby Tallahassee Community College.

"Things have gone badly the last two years," said Bill Tucker, the school's longtime faculty union president. "A lot of problems that were here are still here. He just hasn't gotten to the point of understanding what he should do."

Gainous has said some opposition apparently stems from misperceptions that he and Gov. Jeb Bush want to merge FAMU with a predominantly white school - TCC or nearby Florida State University.

Bush, who appointed many of the school's trustees, said Tuesday the board "is fully responsible for the selection and evaluation of its leadership."

"It is my sincere hope that the interests of FAMU's students remains the school's No. 1 priority," he said in a statement.

Gainous said the vote - which broke largely along racial lines - supports his assertion that he gets less support from the board's nine black members than its white members. The three white members voted to keep him, along with one black member. The lone Hispanic member voted to fire him.

The board did not discuss appointing an interim president, or the lengthy, national search that apparently will be necessary for a permanent president. Trustees chairman Jim Corbin said the board will discuss a search at its next meeting.

"It's a sad day - a very sad day," said Corbin, who has been critical of Gainous for months. He declined to comment further.

Gainous, whose salary is $275,000 a year, said he would talk to his wife before deciding whether he would resign before January. His contract does not call for severance pay but does allow him to remain a tenured professor in engineering sciences.

Carl Mosby III, a 21-year-old FAMU senior from California, was disappointed that Gainous was not asked to leave sooner.

"When I came here, FAMU was on top," Mosby said "After my four years on campus, this university isn't held as high. It's on a decline."

Gainous has maintained that he has been saddled with problems created during the tenure of Humphries, who ran FAMU with an iron fist. He said his efforts also have been hobbled by a lack of state funding.

"The changes that are required of Florida A&M University today are perhaps as significant or as great as the changes for the last 50 years," he told the board Tuesday.

Some school officials and alumni agree Humphries was responsible for many problems, but said Gainous needs to take some responsibility.

The National Alumni Association, which has 3,500 members, voted last month to call for Gainous' removal. An online petition calling for Gainous' resignation was signed by 2,000 people.

"Blaming previous administrations, when the president was hired to identify and fix the problems, is no excuse for getting the job done," said Alvin Bryant, the association's new president.

Tuesday's meeting often seemed as driven by the board's troubled internal dynamics as by the president's leadership. The audience cheered when alumnus Johnny McCray of Georgia called the board "dysfunctional."

"How does a board justify its existence when it has not supported the administration?" he asked.

Bishop, Gainous' most vocal supporter, called repeatedly for a brief recess so he could talk to trustees individually. When told later that would be a violation of Florida's open meetings law, Bishop said, "We do it all the time."

Corbin accused Bishop of trying to "upset the meeting." Bishop said Corbin was trying to "incite violence."

Later, Corbin stripped Bishop of his committee chairmanship.

"It's retribution," Bishop said. "This chairman is into retribution. It was retribution against the president and its retribution against me. ... When you lose, you lose."

Fred Gainous

AGE: 57

HOMETOWN: Tallahassee

EDUCATION: Bachelor's in agricultural education from FAMU, 1969; master's in agricultural education from University of Florida, 1972; doctorate in education from UF, 1975

RECENT EXPERIENCE: Became FAMU president July 1, 2002; chancellor of the Alabama College System's Department of Postsecondary Education, 1988-2002; associate vice president of St. Petersburg College, 1987-88; associate commissioner at Kansas State Department of Education, 1985-87

ANNUAL SALARY: $275,000

[Last modified September 28, 2004, 23:49:12]


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