Stripping FAMU’s financial oversight for the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering jointly operated with Florida State University and FAMU is counterproductive to the goal of seamless cooperation within the State University System. It simply widens the racial and political fractures that have hindered Florida’s public universities from functioning as a single, cohesive unit.
The joint College of Engineering’s creation was one of the first major efforts to make FAMU a full-fledged SUS member after the collapse of “separate but equal.”
Established in 1982, the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering was one of the boldest integration efforts in SUS history.
It called for a predominantly white and predominantly black university to share power as equal partners.
It was also an experiment in challenging SUS institutions to resolve their strategic differences through one-on-one compromise rather than raw power politics in the state legislative.
Negotiation can only occur when each party has leverage.
In the engineering school’s current governance structure, FSU maintains leverage by controlling administrative functions and FAMU maintains leverage by controlling financial functions. Without its current fiscal power, FAMU will be disenfranchised from the joint college’s management process.
Some people justify the legislative intervention by asserting that FAMU has a long history of financial and academic dysfunction. However, these claims must be compared with the reports from the bodies officially charged with evaluating FAMU’s fiscal and scholastic performance.
From 1978 to 2004, FAMU received the same clean state operational audits that FSU did. FAMU also holds the same accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools that FSU does.
The state auditor general’s reports indicate FAMU’s present financial crisis directly extends from firings in 2004 that removed critical institutional knowledge from the University controller’s office.
Thus, FAMU’s problem isn’t a financial operation that is too big for it to handle; it is the unmet need for permanent and adequately prepared financial personnel.
Incoming FAMU President James Ammons’ strong fiscal management record at North Carolina Central University shows he can build a capable financial administrative team to fill FAMU’s void if given the time to do so.
In the meanwhile, giving FSU total oversight of the engineering college will cause more harm than good. FSU has expressed no intention to relinquish this control.
This takeover closely resemblances the Jim Crow-era seizure of FAMU’s law school, and is recreating the racial distrust and unrest from that period.
FSU can douse the flames of this growing racial firestorm by ending its legislative power play and keeping its word to recognize FAMU as the engineering school’s fiscal agent.
We owe it to Tallahassee and the SUS to make this partnership work.
Larry O. Rivers is a 2004 alumnus from Tallahassee. He can be reached at LORivers1@aol.com.