After reaching one of his professional goals by becoming the president of his alma mater, James Ammons is now at the helm of Florida’s only black public institution of higher education.
With Florida A&M University on six-month probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, an accrediting organization, Ammons had to hit the ground running. He brought on some new administrators and said he is committed to having more open lines of communication between the administration and students, faculty and staff.
FAMU’s tenth president has devised a plan to get the university back on track and he said he is excited about the task at hand.
“I have had this as one of my, or as probably, the professional goal for a number of years and having the opportunity to live the dream, it’s really been exciting,” Ammons said. “Everybody’s been so supportive.”
As students returned to campus, he said there are two big changes students should expect to see.
“One is that financial aid is going to be delivered on time,” he said. “And secondly students working on campus are going to get paid on time.”
The university’s accreditation with SACS however has been the main focus.
“The probationary status that we have with SACS has sort of taken precedence over the reaffirmation of accreditation, which was supposed to happen this year,” Ammons said.
Because the university is on probation, SACS has decided to push the reaffirmation back to 2008, he said.
The school was placed on probation because of 10 findings in the operational audit, which is conducted by SACS every two years.
Joseph Bakker, associate vice president of the division, said they have created a corrective action plan to deal with the findings in the division of administrative and financial services. This includes creating subtasks and tracking the progress.
“We have completed about 90 percent of the work identified in the subtasks and with the exception of ongoing items like training, we expect to satisfy all the findings within the next few weeks,” Bakker said.
The university must submit a report to SACS on Sept. 7, and a committee from the organization will re-visit campus in early October.
“I feel very good about where we are and the teamwork that we’ve seen,” Ammons said. “…and how the staff, faculty and students and this whole community have rallied around this university to protect its accreditation, which is really the life line of the university.”
New processes and procedures were put in place to tackle some of the long-time problems at FAMU. Along with the new processes came some new faces.
Ammons brought in some members of his staff from North Carolina Central University to be a part of his leadership team. He said he feels these are the people with the experience to get the job done.
“We have worked together, some of us, for six years,” Ammons said. “There is first of all a wealth of experience in the respective areas within which they are working.”
But with all the new additions and changes on campus, Ammons said he saw a change at the beginning of his term that needed to be made.
“One of the things that became apparent to me was the campus community did not have access to the administration,” he said.
In an effort to address this issue, Ammons created monthly forums for students, faculty and staff to talk about their concerns in the university. The next forum is scheduled for early September.
This is the first in a series of stories analyzing the progress made on the accreditation and financial accountability front, the members of Ammons’ new leadership team and his promise of open communication between the new administration and students, faculty and staff.