tampabay.com

Ammons not on the job yet, but he's already lobbying for support

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO- VAN SICKLER
Published April 8, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - James H. Ammons does not officially take the heavy reigns of his troubled alma mater until July.

But there Ammons was on the last Friday in March, visiting with Sen. Al Lawson in the Capitol, seeking support for the money he says he needs to right Florida A&M University.

Later that day, Ammons went to the office of House Speaker designate Ray Sansom, who is in charge of the House's budget proposal. And he made plans to see the Senate's top lawmakers.

The plea for state support is typical of public university presidents during these final weeks of the legislative session. But for Ammons and the institution he is about to lead, it could not come at a more difficult, awkward time.

Some lawmakers are so worried about the jaw-dropping problems outlined in a recent state audit, which found 35 areas where FAMU's financial controls and bookkeeping fall short, that they are threatening to cut FAMU's funding for 2007-08.

Yet Ammons says he needs more money - not less - to fix FAMU's deep-rooted financial management shortfalls and secure a clean audit.

Ammons is already crafting strategies for improvements at FAMU. For example, the inspector general's office at FAMU is a one-person operation - not enough to clean up the mess and oversee major changes in how the university handles its finances. Employees need to be trained, record-keeping systems revamped.

"You can't get clean audits with one person," Ammons said. "You've got to have a staff to handle this."

The pharmacy school, a top national producer of minority pharmacists, is in danger of losing its accreditation. Ammons says a major problem is low faculty numbers and the need for larger facilities on the main campus.

To hire more professors for the school, including sites in Tampa and Miami, Ammons will need money. He also needs construction dollars for a new wing that will cost more than $12-million.

"We have to make sure pharmacy is not only compliant with accreditation, but in a position to grow," Ammons told Lawson and the other legislators. "You want to talk about building enrollment? Put pharmacy in a position where it can grow."

Ammons also needs to raise falling retention and graduation rates, and get the business and law schools accredited.

Lawson and Sens. Tony Hill and Gary Siplin, as well as Tallahassee Rep. Curtis Richardson, pledged at the end of their meeting with Ammons to work to get FAMU what it needs. They even vowed to look for money to renovate the falling-down president's home on the FAMU campus.

"Oh, man," Ammons smiled. "I would give anything to live in that house. To live on campus, to walk outside and meet students. That's part of being president."

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 850 224-7263 or svansickler@sptimes.com.