FAMU’s presidency: Is there a hidden agenda?

By Narayan Persuad
Special to the Outlook

“Why is the chairman of FAMU’s BOT dragging his feet in opening up the search for the university’s next president”? This is the question I am regularly asked since the publication of my last column in the Tallahassee Democrat regarding FAMU’s leadership.

Whether I am at home, out on business, or running errands, Famuans continue to query me on the delay of the institution’s presidential search. While the number of questioners is less than 60 thus far, they are representative of the wide spectrum of Famuans within and outside the university. For the vast majority, the delay in the presidential search makes no sense. Several voiced suspicion on the process which to them seems “too secretive,” instead of being “open and transparent.”

In instances where I have had lengthy conversations with Famuans, some disclosed that they were told the delay in the presidential search is due to FAMU’s preparation for SACS reaccreditation – which is impending. Others debunk such an explanation pointing to the fact that James Ammons was appointed president under more dire institutional circumstances. FAMU was experiencing financial woes, placed on SACS’ probation, and had only months to prepare for SACS reaccreditation. “If Ammons can come in and get the job done, why can’t someone else?” A few intoned.

In addition to the above, Famuans mentioned that they heard the presidential search is delayed because the BOT is awaiting the completion of a presidential profile from the consultants. Most scoffed at this explanation. And, several were quick to call attention to the fact that the Democrat published a detailed presidential profile prepared by Reverend Holmes, with input from FAMU supporters. “Reverend Holmes has prepared an excellent profile for free. They [BOT] have wasted $50,000, and still can’t get a profile which Reverend Holmes produced in a couple of weeks. What’s up with that?” one Famuan said with a hearty laugh.

A few Famuans expressed concern that a presidential profile is being developed to give preference to a particular individual. They emphasized that focus should be placed on recruiting an individual who will be aggressive in moving FAMU forward, someone who fits most of the qualities identified in the profile developed by Reverend Holmes.

In several instances, I asked the Famuans if they felt that the current interim president is restricted in making decisions to move the university forward. Invariably, the quick response was “No.” Most noted that interim-ship provides an opportunity to demonstrate one’s leadership skills. “When someone can appoint administrators and remove deans, how can we say he is restricted in making decisions?” questioned one Famuan.

Almost all the Famuans who spoke to me agree that they would like to see someone who understands FAMU’s mission, history and culture appointed as the next president. But, they noted that the university needs someone who is decisive, inclusive and not afraid to undertake bold initiatives to place the institution on the path to advancement.

In the main, they all expressed optimism, and hope that “there is no hidden agenda.”

Narayan Persaud is professor emeritus, past faculty senate president and trustee at FAMU