“Fireside chats,” faculty and staff empowerment, and “engaging enrollment plans” are just three of the objectives James Ammons said he will implement when he arrives to claim the top spot on The Hill July 2.
“Everything we do will be to make our students successful and competitive,” said FAMU’s president-elect in an exclusive interview with The Famuan Wednesday.
Ammons said he wants FAMU students, who just spawned a week of protests, to know he plans to habitually attend SGA meetings, make regular stops to the CafÃ© and stay informed with the day-to-day happenings of campus clubs.
In preparation for a protest April 11, Amir Shabazz, 21, a junior philosophy student from Fort Myers said, “the University Board of Trustees do not adequately operate as the voice of the students and the faculty.”
Ammons said students like Shabazz will be well represented by his administration and can expect to have “accessibility” to leaders under his presidency.
“I’ve been known to show up at dorms with pizza to sit around and chat with students,” Ammons said.
Some students, frustrated with how Bryant’s administration has conducted business, said Thursday they are happy to hear change is on its way.
“Having a new president will be a good change to FAMU,” said Desiree Foster, a physical therapy student. “There will be less protests and FAMU will get a tad better,” said the 19-year old from Lakenheath, England.
The new president said when he comes to campus staff members can look forward to “utilizing their skill sets” to serve the students in an efficient manner.
“I have not planned to bring any faculty from (North Carolina Central), but I plan to utilize those already at FAMU,” Ammons said.
Since the time of his official approval by the Board of Governors on March 19, Ammons, who will be paid $325,000 annually, said he has met with Interim President Castell Bryant and faculty and staff members at FAMU’s various colleges and schools to gather as much information as he can about the status of the University.
“When I start on July 2, I’m going to hit the ground running,” he said.
During his transition, Ammons said he plans to perform an assessment, and at the appropriate time he and his transition team will make decisions about leadership members and staff.
He said he does not take the matter of forming his administration lightly.
“It is going to have to be a very careful assessment,” he said. “We will focus specifically on skill sets and desire.”
Henry Kirby, dean of students, said he is confident in Ammons’ ability to lead.
“I am looking for stability as Ammons arrives,” Kirby said. “I’ve had the privilege of working at the college with him when he was provost. He’s a visionary and I’m looking forward to being a part of the great things he intends to do.”
The president-elect said in time he will begin addressing various issues that are hovering over the heads of FAMU stakeholders.
Enrollment numbers are down this year, despite the University being named by Black Enterprise magazine as the “Best School for Blacks to Attend” in 2006. The honor was based primarily on enrollment and retention numbers reported in the 2005 Florida Department of Education report.
“My plan is to put together an enrollment engagement plan for recruitment,” Ammons said. “We will network with school systems statewide and nationally, while working with community colleges to have a marketing and recruitment strategy.”
He said focus would be placed on utilizing honors students and national achievement scholars to help with recruitment. This is a strategy he calls his “target enrollment management plan.”
Ammons said his plan for bettering students’ financial aid is to look at the staffing associated with the department.
“We will determine if we have the appropriate number of staff to serve students in an efficient way,” he said. “We will then know if we need to re-engineer or leverage help in that area.”
As far as payroll issues are concerned, Ammons said he would continue to hold conversations with faculty, staff and students to learn the specific problems they face so he can adequately address the financial issues.
A key component Ammons especially wanted to highlight is his desire to place more emphasis on the University’s Alumni Association.
“The alumni represent the legacy of the University,” he said. “They are our ambassadors.”
He described his plan to garner financial support for FAMU from the association, which he said has ties to the public and private sector of business and corporate partners throughout the world.
He said, “Financial support from the association will allow the University to improve its endowment,” which means money generated through the organization would operate as a separate stream of income for the institution.
“Soul Train,” the well-known University snack man and Rattler icon, agreed that Ammons is headed in the right direction fiscally.
“I definitely look forward to him coming here because he already has his connections here,” Soul Train said. “He has ties with the people who hold the money here in Tallahassee, plus he’s got connections to draw government money to campus.”
Ammons said he has met with state legislators and members of the Board of Governors, including Sen. Al Lawson, Rep. Curtis Richardson, Rep. Ray Sansom and Sen. Tony Hill, in efforts to re-establish old relationships and build new rapport with state leaders.
He also said he “look(s) forward to working with the Board of Governors task force appointed to help put FAMU on right financial grounds.”
As for the colleges and schools that are facing probation or are unaccredited, Ammons has researched the guidelines and requirements to bring each program into right standing and will work to assist deans and directors to strive toward excellence, he said.
“We are working to progress the law school from provisional probation,” he said.
The school of journalism is under that same status, which means it has time to fix its changes before being reviewed by the accreditation organizations again.
“We are also seeking accreditation for the business school, which would be the first time the school would be accredited,” Ammons said.
As the days draw near for Ammons to arrive at FAMU, he said he and his wife are filled with excitement.
“It’s off the charts,” he said. “FAMU has always been my highest goal because I have always felt that there is no greater goal than leading my alma mater.”