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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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No more excuses
A Times Editorial
Published July 3, 2007
FAMU's new president James Ammons.
[Daniel Wallace | Times]
The defense mechanisms at Florida A&M University have worked far more effectively in recent years than the auditing methods, which is one reason the institution is now in danger of losing its accreditation. With its very survival now in question, FAMU can no longer afford to live in a state of denial.
Former North Carolina Central University chancellor James Ammons began work Monday as FAMU's new president and started naming his leadership team. But he faces a daunting challenge to get the university back on track and end the revolving door of administrators just passing through. He will be the fifth permanent or interim president since Frederick Humphries left in 2001. During that same time frame, there have been five athletic directors, four deans of business, four vice presidents for student affairs and four vice presidents for research.
Before Ammons took charge, the acting FAMU chief executive, Larry Robinson, spoke to concerned professors last week in all too familiar tones. He acknowledged the packed auditorium, saying, "It tells me you know how serious this matter is and you're ready to work." But he also seemed to suggest that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) ordered the six-month probation in part because it was deluged with e-mails and letters depicting the institution's "negatives."
The word "negatives, " in this context, has been used routinely in an attempt to discredit accusers and imply a lack of proportionality. But this is no longer a fight about good or bad press or even good motives or bad motives. This is about survival. If SACS removes accreditation, the university could be forced to close.
Outside the university and in some of its more stubborn alumni groups, those who support FAMU seem to appreciate the gravity of these problems. The university system Board of Governors announced its own oversight board in March, and its chairwoman, Lynn Pappas, called the SACS intervention "disappointing but not surprising." Gov. Charlie Crist has moved quickly to appoint new members to the FAMU board of trustees.
This historically black university has suffered, regrettably, from cronyism, financial ineptitude and political neglect. Audit after audit has revealed a lack of accounting controls and the potential for fraud. The necessary improvements have been paralyzed by infighting and a wholesale turnover of upper management.
Excuses and blame are indulgences FAMU can no longer afford. Ammons has to move his institution beyond the role of victim. FAMU, a university that once enjoyed national prominence, needs emergency care.