Howard Johnson, presidential search finalist, said he is dedicated to permanently filling dean positions and maintaining student enrollment at what he declared “one of the elite universities in the nation.”
Students, faculty, alumni and community leaders convened Wednesday in the Grand Ballroom and north wing of the School of Business and Industry to address their questions and concerns with Johnson on the second of three days of interviews for presidential candidates.
Johnson, provost and vice president of academic affairs at the University of North Texas, said he is all about providing services to students.
“When I say it’s about you, I really mean it’s about the student,” said Johnson, who holds a doctorate in mathematics education from Northwestern University. “Success of the university is defined by graduation. We need to educate the whole student.”
Since arriving at the University of North Texas, Johnson has put $1.5 million in to faculty salaries and 57 percent of university funds into the Office of Academic Affairs.
In addition, Johnson voiced his opinions on increasing enrollment in FAMU’s graduate programs.
“I’m not sure there has been a concerted effort to put FAMU’s elite graduate programs into the public eye,” he said. “In some cases, some programs have been a well-kept secret.”
Johnson introduced some of his ideas to create more dual professional master’s programs, such as joint degrees in law and business or law and public administration. He described these ideas as “the opportunity to bring things together in a dynamic way.”
Johnson also voiced his thoughts on tenured professors.
“Tenure is an instinct that has to be protected,” he said. “You have to have integrity with respect to tenure. You have to have standards and you have to address those standards in a realistic, fair, meaningful way.”
Regarding on-campus parking, Johnson said, ” There’s an awful lot of surface parking on this campus that would be ideal for academic buildings.”
For one student, the interview was a chance to see what Johnson had to offer.
“He was really confident in his questions and answers,” said Candice Elliott, 21. Elliott, a senior political science student from Orlando, said Johnson’s history at the University of North Texas could help FAMU. “His high retention rates at ‘Texas’ could really benefit FAMU,” she said.
Johnson said the forum is a great opportunity for the students.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for me to hear the important needs of the students that really matters,” Johnson said. “The more they can do this, the better.”
Debates rose among audience members when Johnson could not give a crowd-satisfying answer to questions regarding improving financial aid and eliminating late registration fees.
“I really couldn’t respond (to those questions) because it’s not something I’ve looked into,” Johnson said.
Some audience members were dissatisfied with the very specific questions being thrown at Johnson.
“We have to think holistically,” said Barbara Oguntade, coordinator of study skills for the School of General Studies. “It’s almost embarrassing if a professional asks a question that is content- specific. I think it’s unfair.
“I’m holding judgment until after Thursday, but he seems extremely qualified and articulate.”
Former FAMU president Walter Smith did not speak about Johnson, but offered his opinion on what FAMU needs in its next president.
“One has to realize that FAMU has undergone extensive changes since Humphries,” Smith said. “I simply say that the person must have the ability to make a quick assessment of where FAMU is and have the vision to look to the future and re-establish FAMU as one of the top HBCUs in the next five years.”
Smith continued, “We need someone who can develop an infrastructure from the president office to the crew that handles the building and grounds. We’re not faltering as much as people think we are. We just need permanent leadership so that people can redevelop confidence.”
Johnson said he hopes he receives the opportunity to sign on as FAMU’s next president.
“All three (finalists) have individual strengths that could move this institution forward,” Johnson said. “I would think that my experiences would help me move this university forward in terms of thinking positively.”