A meeting about the concerns of Florida A&M University maintaining accreditation for the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication resulted in a candid and open discussion between President James Ammons and SJGC faculty.
Ammons initially sought to hold the meeting with SJGC faculty to receive updates on the school’s academic programs.
“I’m proud to know that we received an e-mail that recommends reaccredidation for the (graphic division of) SJGC,” Ammons said.
The Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications will revisit FAMU the week of Feb. 4.
“I think you should be encouraged by the fact that nothing about the quality of this program is in question,” Ammons said.
Certain that the council will be satisfied with the SJGC’s plan of action, FAMU Provost Cynthia Hughes-Harris said, “You had one issue, and you have clearly addressed that issue.”
She was followed by comments from Ammons, who said, “This program is one of the best of the nation, regardless of what’s going on at the institution. For over 35 years, journalism brought several students to the university.”
Ammons then opened himself to questions and comments from the faculty.
LaRae Donnellan, public relations professor and sequence coordinator, was concerned with how recent budget cuts imposed by the Florida Board of Governors will affect her classroom.
“I had 34 students in a senior level research class,” Donnellan said. “The prospect of having larger sections in these intensive writing classes is kind of overwhelming – when will I ever sleep?”
Ammons answered, “This is the kind of message that can come from the faculty to the governor and the Board of Governors. (FAMU) needs (you) to begin to organize as a faculty together.”
Of the schools and colleges he has already visited, Ammons said recent budget cuts, recruitment initiatives and enrollment were among the greatest concerns of University faculty.
However, there is a larger issue, even bigger than problems affecting FAMU.
“Many universities focus on theory so you can lecture 300 easily, but because this is a writing intensive and hands-on program, you can’t exactly do that (at FAMU),” Ammons said.
Journalism professor and Knight Chair Joe Ritchie said making certain changes would be trying.
“Looking at modernizing and revising our curriculum, it’s going to be hard to implement some of the changes we want to make without thinking about adding people,” Ritchie said. “We have to be creative and forward-thinking, but it’s difficult to think about how we can do more with less.”
However, Ammons said the University has taken certain measures to lessen the impact of the situation.
“You didn’t feel the full brunt of the first cut because we’ve did everything we could to shield the academic area from the effects of the budget cut,” Ammons added.
Ammons said enhancement of academic programs was not on the agenda.
“We have to come up with a plan for $4.3 million in March – to continue to provide programs – not enhance them,” he said.
The University president plans to meet with the Board of Trustees on Feb. 11 at 12 p.m. to discuss the plan that will be submitted to the Board of Governors and Governor Charlie Crist to address how FAMU will deal with budget cuts.
Ammons also addressed rumors that summer school will not be offered this year.
“We will have summer school. How much? We don’t know yet,” he said.
A resolution may exist within the FAMU faculty’s commitment to the students and the University.
“We know that we have nine and 12-month faculty,” Ammons said. “We will talk with 12-month faculty about assignments during the summer. Whatever we can hold onto at the end of the fiscal year, we will.”
Quality of Students
Journalism assistant professor Valerie White brought up the quality of some students accepted at FAMU.
“(On one hand) we have some students who have abnormal behavior and chemical imbalance,” White said. “There is also a thug nature that is moving into the classroom.”
White noted how there have not been any mainstream intellectual speakers on the campus in two years, specifically recalling when Cornell West visited the University.
“Setting the tone at orientation is also important,” said Diane Hall, director of high school and community college relations. According to Hall, there has been no increase in funding for orientation.
“Everything in orientation has been just about registration,” Hall said. “What about the academic sessions where all schools can talk about professionalism – the academic programs (on) how to be a lady or a gentleman?”
Ammons addressed student mental health issue by saying that it is a reality everywhere.
“Many of these students discover these things, like you, while they are here,” Ammons said.
“What we can do is find ways to get them to the appropriate individuals and services we have on the University. What we cannot do is discriminate against these students.”
Regarding the thug culture at the University, Ammons said, “We have begun increasing recruitment (initiatives).”
He continued, “FAMU needs to rebuild its reputation among the very best students all over again,” Ammons said. “I’m going to do a statewide bus tour during this spring break to get some of those students who would normally go to (schools like) the University of Florida because they have taken many of the quality type of students that we’ve had.”
Broadcast assistant professor Kenneth Jones made reference to the black scholar W.E.B. Dubois’ Talented Tenth philosophy.
“(We need to) address it as a whole University body, Jones said. “(Students) need to know they are represented as the Talented Tenth.”
Jones was concerned with the sustainability of student media programs that SJGC students use for hands-on learning and application.
In agreement with faculty, Ammons mentioned that there will be a negative effect on FAMU students because of less state funding.
“There is no (way) that we can continue to produce the high-quality student that we have produced with the new budget cuts,” he said.
Future Open Meetings
Ammons will continue his meetings with University stakeholders Friday. Journalism faculty said they appreciated the chance to speak with the president.
“The meeting was very productive,” Hall said. “It was good to hear him respond to our needs and requests.”
A forum for students will be held at 4 p.m. in Lee Hall. He will also meet with faculty, staff and management in forums held between 9 a.m. and 11:45 a.m.