Interim President Castell V. Bryant has been in her position for a little over three months and has made some big decisions concerning the University’s future.
Bryant sat down with The Famuan in her first full interview since implementing a freeze on university spending and initiating a university-wide payroll audit, all in the name of getting a handle on the University’s financial woes. Here, she discusses the state of FAMU’s seeming financial crisis and why she is the best woman for the job of getting the University back in the black.
The Famuan: Describe the State of FAMU’s financial situation.
Castell V. Bryant: We have some challenges and the best way to describe it is that they are challenges. But it’s nothing that we cannot overcome with some changes in procedures and the way we do things. And that’s what we’re currently doing. We’re walking through things that need to be done to change or to address the current challenges to ensure that they don’t become problems.
Famuan: What are the University’s challenges?
Bryant: We don’t have a good grasp of the relationship of our expenditures to our available revenue. So the challenges are what do we do to make sure our expenditures will not exceed our income and that that the end of this fiscal year we don’t end this fiscal year with a deficit.
Famuan: How realistic is it that FAMU will end the fiscal year in the black? (The fiscal year ends June 30)?
Bryant: Yes, if we observe everything we need to do. But it’s not going to happen if we don’t.
Famuan: Before completing your term, what are your main objectives?
Bryant: To end this year in the black.
Famuan: Before taking this position, how did you view the University’s problems?
Bryant: I was on the Board of Governors, so I had a pretty realistic view of what was going on. Serving on the Board of Governors helped me to have information other than what you read in the newspapers, because you know, you can’t always form realistic opinions because that’s a one-sided view. But being on the Board of Governors gave me opportunities to see the University from a different perspective other than the media perspective.
Famuan: How has your view changed about the University’s challenges?
Bryant: The challenges are greater.
Famuan: Knowing what you know now, would you have still taken the position?
Bryant: I don’t know. I would tell you that my commitment and my love for the University was so great, or is so great, that I don’t know if I would have or not. (I) probably would have because I believe that this university can be as great as any and better than a lot of them. I probably would have if I felt that I could make a difference. I do think I can make a difference. I am confident that I can make a difference. I am determined to make a difference.
Famuan: Although you’ve said that the University isn’t looking for a “bailout” from the state, how do you feel about Sen. Al Lawson’s proposed bill to help the University get out of debt?
Bryant: I don’t discuss bailouts with anybody. I don’t address the term because I’ve never asked anybody for it. I never thought we needed it so I don’t discuss bailouts. I don’t even know what a bailout is.
Famuan: Aside from Lawson’s proposal, what were your plans to address the challenges?
Bryant: What I’m doing right now. We’re walking through it. We take steps as we get to them and as we get to a challenge, we’ll find some way to solve it. We’ll take that step and that’s what I’m doing. One of the things has been a moratorium on spending. So we will move along with those kinds of decisions. It depends upon what the situation is.
Famuan: Explain the purpose of the moratorium.
Bryant: To cut back the day-to-day spending and for us to have a controlled environment, a restricted spending environment.
Famuan: How has it affected construction projects that are already underway?
Bryant: There’s some monies that have been designated for specific kinds of things. Of course those things will go forward. However, they will go forward with us paying very close attention to the fact the monies are being used for what they are supposed to be used for and it’s monies that we really need to use in that way. So everything is being reviewed.
Famuan: How is the moratorium affecting student organizations and other campus entities who raise their own money?
Bryant: No matter what revenues are generated by an agency or an organization, if it’s in the name of the University, it comes by state law under the same guidelines for spending. It has to go through the same channels. It does not mean that you can’t do it but it means that it has to be reviewed.
Famuan: In three months, the athletic director, director of student activities, two vice presidents, the controller have all resigned or been suspended from their posts. What is the status of those positions?
Bryant: There’s an interim director of student activities in place. We are doing a national search for the vice president of finance and during the transitional period, KPMG is here monitoring the daily oversight of the financial operations. We’re also doing a national search for the athletic director and the controller.
Famuan: Do you feel that the media has been fair in its coverage of your administration?
Bryant: I don’t have opinions about things like that, I really don’t. I leave that up to whoever’s doing it. In my position, I have an obligation to do certain things and my professional ethics says I need to do them the best I can do them. I need to be objective and there is just a lot of things that fall under that. I am a very optimistic person and I hope that The Famuan, and every other newspaper, feels exactly the same way. I hope and feel that people will observe professional integrity and will be honest in their efforts and commitments to do a good job. And if that happens, then no matter how you cover it, it’s what right and that’s the only thing that’s important to me.
Famuan: Do you feel that there is a strained relationship between the University and the media?
Bryant: I didn’t say that. What I said is that it doesn’t bother me because my commitment is not based on good media coverage or it is not influenced by poor coverage. My decisions are based on information that I gather and that I try to work with all of the people that are involved to make a good decision. If decisions that you have to make in a position like this are influenced or based on what somebody is saying or doing in the abstract, that do not have all of the information that I have, then I am not making good decisions.
Famuan: What do you hope will be said about FAMU A.C. (After Castell)?
Bryant: I don’t know but that when I left it was solid, that it was observing all of the required accountability measures imposed by the state and the systems that we operate under like SACS, the accreditation system. And I guess I’ll go back to the thing I said to the board the day I was selected, that I hope when all of this is over that the board will say this was one of their best choices.
Famuan: What advice would you like to leave students?
Bryant: One of the things that I would hope that FAMU students would learn after walking through here, as they would at any other institution, is that there’s a tremendous value in being an independent thinker. It also carries a responsibility and that is to have as much information as you can, to use it well and to give it your best common sense thought process. But don’t be influenced by what somebody else is doing or by what somebody else is saying if you haven’t thought it out because so many times we go down the wrong road when we do that. There is tremendous value in making your own decisions based on information that you gather. When I used to teach, I used to always talk about the “what else” question. There should always be a question in the back of your mind about what else is there out there. I do believe very strongly in “what else.”
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