Trustees Grant FAMU’s Budget Amendments

Florida A&M’s Board of Trustees Wednesday granted a $1 million cash infusion for a “marketing and communication campaign” to restore FAMU’s image in the wake of the Marching “100” hazing scandal in November 2011.

But trustees insisted that that administrators spend the next two weeks polishing the communications plan. 

Trustees approved the amended 2012-2013 budget, which includes a 12 percent increase in tuition — rather than the 15 percent planned at the start of this month. Only one trustee present on Wednesday’s call, Torey Alston, voted against the budget amendments. 

Trustees pressed President James Ammons and his cabinet to include student advice in crafting the university’s new public image and have “outside PR firms” evaluate the plan for “strategy, timing and tactics.”

They demanded a written response from administrators by July 11. 

The discussion over the amended budget was brief. Trustees quickly discussed and approved changes to the budget after Florida’s Board of Governors decided last week to grant only a 12 percent increase to tuition for some students of the State University System. FAMU trustees had three weeks ago approved a 15 percent increase, the maximum allowed, to help cover budget shortfalls after losing $19.6 million for the next fiscal year. 

The discussion for the marketing plan took longer. After Director of Communications Sharon Saunders presented the plan, trustees questioned whether focusing on PR ahead of the October trial of 11 former band members for felony hazing would be premature. They also wanted to know how effective the plan would be, asking whether other firms had vetted the plan.

Trustee Narayan Persaud questioned how CKC Public Relations was involved in crafting the plan. Saunders responded that the firm offered “guidance” before but that “only the internal crisis communications team” worked on the plan.

Trustees agreed with having a comprehensive plan, but they wanted to know how much work FAMU’s Office of Communications had put into PR. Saunders told them that in the past seven months,fielding public records requests had absorbed the majority of the office’s staff.

Some trustees found that hard to believe, but trustees Alston and Marjorie Turnbull, who acknowledged that they had been “on both sides of public information requests,” defended the effort that preparing the records take.

Trustee and Student Body President Marissa West called for the use of “internal resources” in students to help rebuild the university’s image. 

The trustees agreed that they need to see, in writing, administrators’ commitment to their requests. They gave them two weeks to prepare it.

Also: Trustees approved budgets for Direct Support Organizations including FAMU Foundation and the National Alumni Association. They also requested a report on the plan to shrink the athletic department’s budget deficit by July 11.