The Board of Trustees named James H. Ammons the new University president in a close vote Thursday.
Ammons, an alumnus of FAMU and chancellor of North Carolina Central University, received a majority seven votes from the 13-member board, making him the 10th president in FAMU history. Thelma B. Thompson received six votes, and Howard C. Johnson received none.
“It was a very close vote, which is indicative of the quality of candidates who were brought to us today,” said Challis Lowe, board of trustees chair and executive vice president of human resources at Dollar General Corporation.
Seated at an all white table before the BOT in the Grand Ballroom, each of the three presidential candidates interviewed for two hours. The trustees asked an array of challenging questions.
The candidates were first presented with prepared questions that were agreed upon by the board. The series of questions included topics of fundraising, fiscal policy, faculty involvement and student retention.
Ammons appeared poised as spoke about his plans for the University.
“I plan to engage a fundraising counsel to come in and answer some of the University’s questions toward direct funding,” he said.
While at NCCU, Ammons helped raise $17.8 million toward the enhancement of the university’s budget in various programs. He emphasized that his strategy for FAMU is to restore and establish new business relationships that will aid in bettering the University’s fiscal matters.
In addition to the prepared questions, the trustees allotted time to ask each candidate impromptu questions.
In her response to one question, Thompson said her approach to interpersonal relationships was “understanding the human heart.”
“You approach people in a positive way,” she said. “You find out about the good in people.”
Between interviews, board members took time to walk around and speak with members of the audience. This allowed for clarity on some of the issues involving the final interviews.
“It would be extremely important to select a president today,” said the Rev. R.B. Holmes, co-chair for the Board of Trustees. “If we don’t do this today, there is an underlying agenda that is not in the best interest of FAMU.”
In a Jan. 24 meeting leading up to the interviews, board members disagreed on whether to vote immediately following the third round of interviews.
“For those who are seeing the candidates for the first time, we wanted to make sure that they had the time to make the right decision,” Co-chair Laura Branker said.
After the interviews, a vote was taken to determine whether board members were ready to choose a candidate.
The final choices toward the presidency were written out on green sheets of paper and handed to Board Liaison Kimberlee D. Borland, who tallied each member’s vote.
Borland read the votes to the board as audience members counted aloud and held up their fingers to keep score. The crowd cheered and applauded when the seventh vote was read for Ammons.
The seven trustees who supported Ammons were Phillip Agnew, Alberto Cardenas, Mary Diallo, Pamela Duncan, Holmes, William Jennings and Spurgeon McWilliams.
The six others who voted for Thompson were Lowe, Branker, W. George Allen, Regina Benjamin, Jesse Tyson and Leerie Jenkins.In the body of his interview, Ammons said he advocates the fiscal soundness approach.
He plans to look toward the private sector of business when dealing with the University’s financial statements.
“The University should not be dependent on the government for funding,” Ammons said.
He emphasized the importance of alumni relations. “Alumni in the business world can guide you to the right people,” Ammons said.
He plans to provide an open door to alumni in order to build key business relationships outside of the University.
“Alumni are a major stakeholder group in the life of the University,” he said.
Financial aid, leadership and extended programs are important areas that Ammons said he plans to focus on upon entering office.
“Need-based financial aid must be administered in an efficient way,” Ammons said.
He proposed that he would invest in professionals to administer those programs.
In the area of leadership, Ammons said, “We have to be concerned about the pipeline.” He said blacks have to build up one another.
“When you look at African-Americans, we still have a long way to go.”
In his address about special programs he said, “We must invest in programs that will move the University from one place to the next.”
The Board of Governors’ proposed three-tier university system was brought into the discussion when Ammons spoke about extending programs.
“I think we would have to disagree with any report that would limit Florida A&M University’s ability to deliver under higher programs and only agree to programs that help FAMU to move upward,” he said.
Although Ammons has stated his initiatives for the University, there is still a last step that must be taken in order to truly solidify his place in office.
The BOT must ratify the vote made today in its meeting scheduled for March 8, said LeNedra Carroll, University spokeswoman.
Ammons’ contract negotiations will be discussed between now and March.
The trustees and Ammons must agree upon a deal. Carroll said the current contract with Interim President Castell V. Bryant provides for her to serve until the end of the school year or until a new president is chosen.
The contract also provides for a 60-day notice before exiting. “Her plans are to return into retirement,” Carroll said.
Many people are anticipating Ammons’ return to campus.
“Dr. Ammons is someone who has been here before, and the FAMU community seems to be excited about his return,” Carroll said.
“Now that Ammons has been chosen there is a lot of excitement about moving ahead.”