Report praises FAMU's strides

By Ron Matus, Times Staff Writer
Published March 1, 2008

Florida A&M University is removing the biggest stain on its reputation.

The state task force formed to oversee the embattled university's finances all but finalized a report Friday that says FAMU has made big strides in shoring up its financial and operational controls.

On the fiscal front, the new report is the latest in a series of increasingly positive signs for FAMU, which was put on probation last year by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, in part because of concerns about its financial stability.

"In those areas, their progress has been significant (and) appears to be sustainable," said Lynn Pappas, a Jacksonville lawyer who chairs the task force. "I think those are very important steps to restoring the credibility in their financial and operational control areas."

The report echoes glowing comments from state auditors and regional accreditors in December. And it offers even more hope that FAMU's probation will soon end.

"I think it's important that when the report is read, people understand the university is not where it was when the task force began," said FAMU president James Ammons.

The report will be tweaked over the weekend and delivered to Gov. Charlie Crist and key lawmakers Monday.

The Florida Board of Governors formed the task force in the spring, after FAMU received another scathing state audit despite assurances from top officials that it had turned a corner. That audit listed 35 findings, including $2.7-million worth of missing items, $1.8-million worth of missing ticket receipts and off-balance ledgers for activity, health and athletic fees.

After becoming president in July, Ammons and his administrative team put together an action plan to address fiscal concerns. And by year's end, oversight bodies were giving FAMU credit.

In December, the latest state audit - FAMU's best in years - concluded the university had made "significant improvement" in financial management. And while the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools decided that month to keep FAMU on probation, its officials publicly declared during a site visit that FAMU had made "remarkable progress."

The Board of Governors task force came to the same conclusion, as did Accretive Solutions Inc., the company it hired to evaluate FAMU's plan.

Among other changes, the task force found FAMU had installed a "robust" internal auditing system so it can better watchdog itself, said Pappas, a board member. "That is something that appears to be running certainly at a much, much higher plane that it has in the past," she said. "That is a very important finding."

The task force still has areas to review in coming months, including contracts and grants and information technology.

The group will disband in June, the same month the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools will decide whether to keep FAMU on probation.