FAMU payroll still in disarray
The interim leader tells lawmakers she doesn't know what is owed the instructors.
By Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler
Published March 6, 2007
TALLAHASSEE - Florida A&M's embarrassing money headaches just won't go away.
Dozens of university instructors are still waiting to be paid, weeks after university officials received claims for hundreds of long-overdue paychecks.
Moreover, the university's interim president of more than two years did not have answers Monday for lawmakers who want to know exactly how much money is at stake.
Interim FAMU president Castell Bryant on Monday told a legislative auditing committee that she is working through questions over the instructors' contracts and paperwork.
Asked how much money the university potentially owes the unpaid employees, Bryant replied, "I don't know." FAMU officials later told the Times that $639,000 in checks were paid between Feb. 2 and March 2.
Bryant also did not have a precise figure for the number of instructors who requested payment. FAMU has received 632 paycheck requests, but some people submitted more than one claim, depending on how many classes they taught, she said.
"We're getting a spreadsheet on that," she told a reporter.
Bryant told the bipartisan committee of senators and representatives that in some cases it's unclear whether the instructors seeking payment were even authorized to teach courses. Officials also are trying to determine whether the departments where the instructors worked have big enough budgets to pay them.
"People started working without submitting the proper paperwork, and that's what started this," Bryant said. "I am not going to approve a payment until I have verified all this information."
A history of problems
The payroll problems are the latest chapter in the university's saga of financial problems, which date to the 16-year tenure of Frederick Humphries, who resigned as president in 2001.
They come as James H. Ammons, recently selected as FAMU's first permanent president in more than two years, prepares to take over this summer.
In the meantime, Bryant insists she is addressing the problem.
FAMU has fulfilled 389 paycheck requests from instructors identified last month as having gone unpaid for months - in some cases since the fall.
Seward Hamilton, a tenured psychology professor who has been at FAMU for 18 years, estimates the university owes him $25,000 for extra classes he has taught during his time there.
"Others haven't been paid, but they are too embarrassed to come forward," Hamilton told lawmakers.
Bryant said the problems do not appear to involve the regular payroll, that is, checks made out to full-time professors as part of their contracts.
"We have not missed those paychecks," she said.
Instead, the problem involves adjuncts who are not full-time professors, graduate assistants and the payments that full-time professors are supposed to get for teaching courses beyond their contracts.
The faculty union at FAMU wants state and federal officials to look into possible violations of labor standards, said professor Barbara Thompson, head of the United Faculty of Florida chapter at FAMU.
Lawmakers made no decisions Monday about the FAMU situation, because it is still under review by the state auditor general. But they asked pointed questions that made clear they have deep concerns.
"It sounds like the paperwork is not being verified and the funding per department is not being verified," said Rep. Susan Bucher, D-West Palm Beach. "What kind of verification is there for what they said they worked? Is there someone verifying that they in fact came on campus and worked these hours?"
Other committee members wondered just how far back the paycheck problems go.
Rep. Carl Domino, R-Jupiter, asked what will happen to the remaining instructors in question if FAMU officials conclude they were never authorized to teach, or if it turns out a department hired too many adjuncts and doesn't have the money in its budget to pay.
FAMU controller Grace Ali said the university will move money around to make up for a department's shortfall if need be.
"If somebody worked, we're obligated to pay them," Ali said. "But we're not obligated to keep them."
Bryant disputed claims by some faculty members that the recent problems prove she has not done her job.
"Let me assure you, in my 25 months here, I have not been twiddling my thumbs," Bryant told legislators. "This is the first time this has emerged.
"And while we didn't start it, we are fixing it."
Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 850 224-7263 or firstname.lastname@example.org
FAMU's payroll problems
March 1999: Two dozen adjunct faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences complain they have not been paid for three consecutive pay periods, prompting then-chancellor Adam Herbert to write then-president Frederick Humphries demanding a fix.
Summer 2005: Professors at FAMU's law school threaten to stop teaching after weeks went by with as many as 10 professors not getting paid.
Feb. 2: Interim president Castell Bryant gets a call at home that adjunct faculty members have not been paid. She puts together a task force to determine how many have not been paid.
Feb. 9: The first checks go out to adjuncts.
March 1: FAMU has issued a total of 389 checks, with plans for 23 more to be sent.
Monday: Bryant updates lawmakers on the situation.