Search reduced to six candidates

After a lengthy debate, the presidential search committee has narrowed the field to six candidates for the position of Florida A&M University’s new president.

The Hollins Group, a search firm based out of Chicago, hired by the university, presented 12 out of the 36 candidates that applied for review by the committee Wednesday.

The six people who made the preliminary cut in alphabetical order are:

-James H. Ammons, president of North Carolina Central University and former Florida A&M University provost.

-Lawrence F. Davenport, executive vice president for University Advancement and executive director of the FAU Foundation at Florida Atlantic University.

-Howard C. Johnson, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at University of North Texas.

-Larry L. Palmer, president and CEO of the Inter-American Foundation and former U.S. Ambassador to Honduras.

-Patricia Pierce Ramsey, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Bowie State University.

-Thelma B. Thompson, president of University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

The six who were eliminated were:

-Robert G. Beatty, general council and vice president of public affairs for the Miami Herald Media Company.

-Robert B. Donaldson, director of master’s of public administration programs and master’s thesis projects/practicum for the division of public administration at Governors State University.

-Alphonso Jackson, secretary of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

-Irving P. McPhail, president of the McPhail Group.

-J. Keith Motley, vice president for business and public affairs at the University of Massachusetts System.

-Johnny C. Taylor, senior vice president of human resources at IAC/Interactive Corp.

The search that began in 2005 is right on schedule, Student Government Association President Phillip Agnew said.

The meeting, held in the president’s conference room in Lee Hall at 2 p.m., began with committee members expressing high hopes for the candidates.

Laura Branker, co-chairwoman of the search committee and FAMU Board of Trustees member said, “I look forward to seeing the product of the search firm.”

Lawrence Hollins, founder and president of The Hollins Group, and Charles Taylor thanked the committee for allowing them to conduct the search. “FAMU is still well-regarded across the nation,” Taylor said.

Taylor said that no committee members in an official capacity with the university interfered with their process. “It certainly made our job easier, not having to play politics with anyone in the pool,” he said.

BOT Chairwoman Challis Lowe said she referred some names to the search firm but did not directly contact the people she referred.

“I didn’t talk to any of them,” she said. “I wasn’t trying to do their job. I only gave (the search firm) names.” She said that none of the names she gave were on the list of candidates.The committee took a receess to review the candidates separately and later reconvened to discuss them.

Early in the meeting, Taylor explained there were two kinds of candidates; traditional and non-traditional. There is one non-traditional candidate (one without a background in university education) among the six finalists.

During the debate over the candidates, which included sitting university presidents, CEOs, university administrators and a federal administrator, concern was expressed over several candidates’ ability to handle the job.

Several key points addressed included recruitment, retention, fundraising and leadership qualifications.

One FAMU alumnus, Ammons, made it into the final six.”One of the questions I would have, let’s look at what he did when he was here,” Lowe said. “Why wasn’t he considered for the president job at the time?”

Ammons, who was provost under former FAMU President Frederick S. Humphries, left FAMU to become the president of North Carolina Central University in 2001.

When asked if the committee looked at any of the other 36 candidates besides the 12 that were presented, the Rev. R.B. Holmes Jr., presidential search co-chairman said that is why they hired The Hollins Group. The committee did not want to look over their shoulder, he said.

“I can’t say whether that would have been a productive venture,” Agnew said. “We did pay (the search firm) a hefty sum to narrow down the list based on our leadership statement. I have no choice but to trust their judgment.”

Holmes and Branker thanked The Hollins Group for the progress that was made during the year-long search. “There were two key words involved in this process: inclusive and transparent,” Branker said. “I feel very comfortable moving forward with six good candidates.”

Holmes added that none of the committee members should have any contact with the candidates in this process.”We got to keep this process clean and it has been clean,” Holmes said.

The committee will narrow the field down to three after they interview all six candidates Dec. 14-15.

FAMU will invite the finalists back in February to meet with trustees, stakeholders and the community.

The next university president is expected to be announced in March.