FAMU Trustees to Weigh-In on Joint Engineering Program
By Angeline J. Taylor
Outlook Executive Editor
All eyes were on 22-year-old Nojy Augustin in Florida A&M University’s (FAMU) fall commencement ceremony in December. Augustin was the only student to take part in commencement exercises from the Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering – a joint program that has gotten a lot of attention in the last year due in large part to a request by former Florida Sen. John Thrasher.
Thrasher, now Florida State University (FSU) president, recommended the joint program be divided among the two institutions during last year’s legislative session when he led a budget amendment to get the joint school divided – a move that brought dissension among the universities as FSU was looking for a new president and FAMU’s 11th president, Elmira Mangum, was in her first week of her tenure.
Tomorrow, FAMU’s trustees have scheduled a meeting at the university’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in Jacksonville. It will be the first time one of two groups of trustees will discuss a 91-page report that was requested by the Florida Legislature in light of Thrasher’s request. FAMU and FSU officials have been mum on the preliminary findings of the report. And officials at neither school have wished to comment prior to the report being taken up at the Feb. 19 Florida Board of Governor’s (BOG) meeting, which will be held at Tallahassee Community College. The joint engineering school is the last item on the agenda.
While officials have made it clear that they’d prefer to wait on giving comments on the issue, the report is speaking volumes on what officials at both institutions should do for the future of the joint engineering school. According to the report, which was commissioned by the BOG and completed by the Collaborative Brain Trust Consulting firm of Sacramento, Calif., FSU officials seek to divide the program in order to become a top 25 public research university and to become a member of the Association of American Universities (AAU). The report says, “The leap forward by FSU to the scale of research that characterizes the output of a top 25 university may significantly enhance Florida’s high-tech economy.”
FAMU seeks to keep the school a joint program to provide students access to an engineering degree that wouldn’t normally have such access. Also, FAMU officials want the university to reach its mission to expand the institution’s world-class research. According to the report, “As a land-grant school, its original mission includes engineering as a focus.” However, the joint program is not reaching its full potential due largely to being saddled with two universities that have differing core missions, the report says.
Pluses and Problems
Augustin was only one of two students to graduate from the FAMU side of the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering in December. But the new alum said that the dissent going on outside very rarely affected the students and faculty.
“It’s actually great,” Augustin, a civil engineering graduate said. “On the outside, we knew that a lot of people see it as a good thing or a bad thing. But the teachers and students were too focused on the program. And the students … we’re just trying to graduate.”
Augustin’s sentiment is somewhat echoed in the report. The faculty, staff and students are considered “of high caliber” and are dedicated to the program’s success. The report continues by saying that the engineering program saves the state money. And that’s where the majority of the plusses in the executive summary end. Problems centering on money and a fracture of federal laws surround any decision associated with dividing the engineering program.
The report says it would cost $1 billion to separate the program with FSU getting its own and FAMU its own. “Hence, the overall cost to set up a two-college system may be prohibitive,” the report says. Stretching the money also concerned Augustin.
He said, “Personally, my only concern is whether the state can afford to continually fund both programs.”
Also, dividing the school goes against Title IV of the Civil Rights Act and the 1992 Supreme Court decision of United States vs. Fordice. According to the report, “There cannot be duplicate engineering programs in Tallahassee, one that is predominantly white, and the other predominantly black. This would be viewed as a separate-but-equal educational system. Under this condition, separate engineering programs would either need to deal out the disciplines among the two parent universities, or to form two colleges with substantially different organizations (e.g., one with traditional departments, and the other with Grand Challenge-based, multidisciplinary clusters). The former could result in two incomplete and ineffective engineering colleges.”
Dividing the school isn’t the only option that would be expensive. It would also be expensive to improve the school as a joint venture. The report says a “significant reorganization” that focused on student success and faculty production would need to be established. Buildings would need to be renovated. And FAMU would have to improve students’ math preparation and increase faculty salaries to the level of FSU.
In the 2011-2012 to 2013-2014 school years, there were more than 4,000 students graduating in engineering disciplines, according to the BOG. FSU had 339 graduates while FAMU had 43. FSU came in fourth behind University of Florida, University of Central Florida, University of South Florida and Florida International University in the number of students graduating in engineering disciplines.
Weaknesses at FSU and FAMU
In the 32 years that the program has been in operation, it has awarded more than 5,000 baccalaureate degrees, more than 1,000 master’s degrees and more than 200 doctoral degrees. But both universities have slacked in meeting their original goals over the years, according to the report.
Both institutions were originally driven to increase the number of women and minorities in the engineering disciplines and to achieve international recognition for excellence in engineering research.
Former Florida A&M University President Frederick Humphries was instrumental in recruiting well-prepared African-American students for the engineering program, the report says. During his tenure, FAMU students made up the increased fraction of the undergraduate population. From 1985-2003, FAMU’s undergraduate students had more than a 26 percent presence than FSU students. When Humphries retired in 2001, the report says that those student numbers began to decline, which has been used to support the argument for separation. FAMU’s African-American student numbers is down by 46 percent in the last 10 years.
Also, FSU has not been in keeping with the dual-mission to educate more women and African-Americans in the engineering disciplines. According to the report, FSU enrollment has increased 36 percent over the past 10 years. FSU’s African-American student population has decreased by 36 percent. Also, only 24 percent of the student population at the joint college is made up of women. The report says that “Given the prominence of educating women in engineering within the joint college mission, we might expect more national leadership. To achieve such prominence would require about 40 percent women.”
Straying from its goals
According to the report, the uniqueness of the joint college will benefit both universities. For FSU, the joint engineering school would help the institution fall more in line with its core mission statement. The report says, “According to the FSU mission statement, the University values diversity. If that is the case, it would seem that FSU would seek the enhancement of the joint college, and given the history of FSU, it would seem that its leadership would have pushed the joint college to enroll and graduate more women.” The report goes on to add that the argument that separating the engineering school will better allow FSU to pursue its vision of being a top 25 public research university is “largely conjecture.”
FAMU officials, the report said, need only look to its most recent history and bring back a recruitment and marketing initiative that brought in more well-prepared students. As the report says, “We did not learn of any successful program at the joint college for recruitment and marketing. Nor did we find that the two universities treat the joint college as a centerpiece in the recruitment of students. It appears that the retirement of President Humphries marked the end of aggressive efforts to market the joint college.”
Finally, the report goes on to explain how the joint college is a template that should be emulated. It says, “The diversity dimension of the missions of the joint college … is a strength that should not be lost. Institutions such as the Georgia Institute of Technology, North Carolina A&T University, and the University of Central Florida should follow and not lead the joint college in this area.