Four Years of Progress: How Ammons Has Changed the Game at FAMU

Florida A&M faced a host of crippling administrative issues before President James Ammons took over in 2007.

From bad financial audits to probation, the university seemed to receive only bad news.

Since then Ammons said he has focused on taking care of the administrative issues then looking toward the future to better use technology for the university. With the last of his first class receiving diplomas in December, Ammons said he has big plans and wants to uphold the integrity of the rebounding university.

“My goal is to give students everything they need so that when they leave here and go and compete for a job that they not only compete, but win,” said Ammons in an interview Sept. 6. “If a student graduates from FAMU feeling like they can accomplish anything, then I think we’ve succeeded.”

In 1984, Ammons was appointed FAMU assistant vice president for academic affairs. He was promoted to associate vice president for academic affairs in 1989. After a stint as chancellor of North Carolina Central University, Ammons returned to FAMU. He succeeded interim president Castell Bryant and took on the issues she left behind.

Operational and financial audits for the 2005-2006 school year conducted by the Auditor General found violations that included incomplete bank records, returned checks receivable, vendor payments, contractual services, faculty insurance coverage, communication expenses, use of employee cellular phones, information technology security controls and financial statements with millions of dollars of mismanaged funds.

After the results of the audit were released, FAMU was investigated by a Board of Governors Task Force to monitor financial operations and put on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. SACS later lifted the probation and reinstated the university’s accreditation. In recent years, the biggest issues facing Ammons are the bad economy and cuts in funding.

Florida Legislature has cut $35 million in FAMU funding as well as another proposed 15 percent and $7.9 million in stimulus cuts for 2011-2012.

To prepare for the budget cuts, Ammons said the university is launching a $50 million comprehensive campaign. Of that, $30 million would be used for scholarships; $10 million would fund “faculty and student development,” by sending them to conferences; and $10 million reserved for operating expenses.

 The university has worked to generate funds through faculty-written grants and fundraising from the private sector, Ammons said.

The FAMU Office of Institutional Research reported that the university received $50.3 million for research, training and operations with revenue coming from grants, and private sources during fiscal 2009-10. That amount has grown each year since Ammons became president.

In spring 2011, Ammons and his administration restructured the university resulting in nearly 200 job losses and the elimination and merger of 24 programs from the university.

Ammons said “re-engineering the business process” has helped the university move in a more technology-based direction, beyond that of basic business operations, to include student-based application.

“Ideally, what I would like to do is for students to be able to conduct all of their business from their smart phones,” Ammons said. “Investing in those types of programs and activities will give us a competitive edge when we look at all of the other colleges and universities.”

Ammons has also focused on enrollment, which has increased0 for each years since he became president. In fall 2010, 13, 284 students were enrolled, the highest in the university’s history. Those numbers declined slightly this semester to 13,100, as the university toughened its admission standards.

Despite Ammons’ strides in increasing enrollment, former Faculty Senate President Maurice Holder said the president has yet to focus his attention on the improvement of faculty.

“One thing that he has not been able to do is get enough financial support to raise the salaries of faculty and bring in high profile faculty members because the funding is not there,” said Holder, a professor in the College of Pharmacy.

Last fall, in response to repeated faculty union demands, Ammons announced base salary increases in the amount of $1,000 for each eligible salaried employee.