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FAMU chief hits the ground running
On his first day, he makes major job picks and talks with students.
By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published July 3, 2007
During a meeting with faculty Monday morning, Florida A&M University's new president, James H. Ammons, vowed to steer FAMU in the right direction. Next week, he plans to present a plan to trustees for dealing with the university-wide accreditation problems.
TALLAHASSEE - Florida A&M University's new president wasted no time and minced no words on his first day at the troubled public institution's helm.
James H. Ammons began Monday with a pre-dawn prayer breakfast and didn't stop, jetting from one event to the next -- making several major job announcements along the way.
"Our plan all along was to hit the ground running," said Ammons, 54, FAMU's former provost.
During a morning meeting with faculty and staff at the College of Pharmacy, Ammons named former pharmacy college dean Henry Lewis III to return to the post, which hasn't had a permanent leader in about two years. Ammons said Lewis is the best choice to help the college, the nation's largest producer of black pharmacists, through its current accreditation problems.
"I recruited Dr. Lewis because much of what has been accomplished in the pharmacy college in recent years was under his leadership," Ammons said. "With the probation situation now, we needed someone with that experience."
Later in the day, Ammons introduced his "leadership team," including an interim provost, a new general counsel and a vice president for audit and compliance.
Many of them are former FAMU administrators who followed Ammons six years ago when he took the chancellor's job at North Carolina Central University.
"I know how they work; they know how I work," Ammons said as he stood with the group outside Lee Hall, the administration building. "They are competent individuals."
Education professor and former dean Barbara Barnes will spend her last year before retirement as interim provost, a job Ammons said he will fill permanently with lots of faculty advice.
Charles O'Duor will leave the financial affairs office at North Carolina to be FAMU's vice president of audit and compliance.
Tending to problems
Cleaning up FAMU's finances and stabilizing its leadership is a priority for Ammons and his team. The state's only historically black university has suffered in recent years because of financial mismanagement exacerbated by turnover in the president's office and in several major FAMU colleges and departments.
The worst blow came less than two weeks ago, when a national accrediting body put FAMU on probation over concerns in those areas.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Commission on Colleges gave FAMU six months to shape up or risk being stripped of its accreditation.
During a meeting with faculty Monday morning, Ammons vowed to steer FAMU in the right direction. Next week, he plans to present a plan to trustees for dealing with the university-wide accreditation problems.
But he said he cannot fix FAMU alone, and he challenged faculty to "raise the bar academically."
He conceded it won't be easy.
FAMU is losing state funds because of dwindling enrollment and state revenue shortfalls, he said, so faculty will have to do more with less.
Morale at low point
Business professor Clyde Ashley told Ammons that morale across campus is low, "but we, as faculty, are ready to roll up our sleeves to make FAMU better."
Ammons' most relaxed moments came at lunchtime, when he and his wife sat with students in the campus cafeteria. He walked from table to table: "Hi, I'm the new president. What's your name?"
As he polished off a salad, Ammons asked students, "What do you want to see?"
Then he listened for an hour as students aired concerns over everything from service in the financial aid office to the university e-mail system and Web site.
"I believe he's going to bring us through the trenches and bring us back where we're supposed to be," said George Burns, 19, a pharmacy student from Tallahassee. "He has a true love of FAMU, and that's all you can ask for."
Staff writer Ron Matus contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 813 226-3403 or email@example.com
-Barbara Barnes, interim provost: An education professor and former dean, she retires in a year.
-Rosalind Fuse-Hall, chief of staff for the president's office: She was executive assistant to Ammons at North Carolina Central University.
-Roland Gaines, student affairs vice president: He was a FAMU administrator and most recently student affairs vice chancellor at NCCU.
-Teresa Hardee, interim chief financial officer: She was assistant vice chancellor for financial planning at NCCU.
-Avery D. McKnight, general counsel: A FAMU grad, he served in the general counsel's office from 1992-2005.
-Charles O'Duor, vice president for audit and compliance: He was vice president for financial affairs at NCCU and used to work in FAMU academic affairs.
-Robert Seniors, interim vice president for information technology: A FAMU grad, he has more than 10 years' in IT management.
-Sharon Saunders, chief communications official: She worked with Ammons when he was FAMU provost and followed him to NCCU, where she handled Ammons' media response after a student accused Duke lacrosse players of rape.
-Patricia Woodard, president's administrative assistant: She was Ammons' assistant at NCCU.