Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting left a lot of people wondering: where did it all go wrong? One minute the board is thrilled to have their first female president from Cornell University. The next minute they’re waving goodbye as former Florida A&M University president Elmira Mangum takes a “leave of absence.”
Although it’s hard to tell who forced whose hand in Thursday’s BOT meeting outcome, the board voted in favor of Mangum taking a leave of absence effective immediately until the end of her contract, which expires March 31, 2017. During this time she will continue to receive her current base salary, $425,000, and effective April 1, 2017 Mangum will be entitled to receive a 12-month sabbatical.
After her sabbatical, Mangum will also have the option to return to FAMU as a tenured professor. According to the employment contract, during the first year of her post-presidency faculty position, she will receive a base salary equal to 90 percent of $425,000. After the first year, she will receive a base salary equal to that of the highest paid professor at FAMU.
Mangum was also reimbursed for legal fees; the agreed amount coming to $6,500 according to legal counsel for the BOT Adrienne Conrad.
There were many highs during Mangum’s reign. FAMU fundraising increased tremendously, according to vice president for university advancement George Cotton Sr. by generating $6.5 million during the 2015-2016 year.
Mangum successfully kept the FSU-FAMU engineering school intact. She also broke glass ceilings, as she was FAMU’s first female president.
Under her reign, FAMU has risen to No. 7 in the US News World & Report for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. FAMU qualified for performance funding and Mangum was named in Ebony Magazine’s 100 Power List.
With all the accolades and validation, how can a board let go of someone like this?
According to Mangum’s employment contract, her term of employment could have been renewed or extended by June 30, 2016 with majority vote of the board.
Instead of making a decision that would have ended the saga at the June 10 BOT meeting, Chairman Kelvin Lawson felt the board needed more data from the second year’s performance review before making a decision.
Evaluating the president
The board gathered the data for Mangum’s performance review July 1-18 according to the cumulative BOT presidential evaluation.
Only two trustees, Dortch and Lawrence, felt they couldn’t give a proper evaluation. In an email sent to special committee on presidential evaluation chair Kimberly Moore, Dortch said he’s only been a trustee for a little more than six months.
“I cannot conduct a comprehensive evaluation since I have not officially been a trustee for a little more than six months of this year,” Dortch said. “I didn’t think it would be appropriate for me to participate in a 2015/2016 annual evaluation of the president.”
Dortch also stated he could only give some observations and view but not a full assessment.
Although Thomas filled out the presidential evaluation form completely, it was supplemented with comments in which he said he’s only been to one board meeting and provides “impressions.”
“My reality is this: I have been to exactly one board meeting, and that only this past month … Before me now is a significant presidential evaluation form to fill out, and there’s no honorable way that I can speak to the detail required,” Thomas said.
Overall out of 10 strategic categories, Mangum received four “does not meet expectations” ratings, according to WCTV.
According to the Aug. 24 BOT meeting minutes, Mangum responded to her evaluation results with several grievances: clear expectations were only present for two categories, she didn’t receive feedback regarding what the expectation of success was for those other areas and was her job description used to help guide the evaluation process.
She wondered was the board clear on what the rating system was and how to use it?
Moore responded that the evaluation factors and recommendations were the same from the first year, according to Aug. 24 BOT meeting transcript.
“Rating in sync with evaluation factors and recommendation, I would say to each of you all, and the whole idea behind this evaluation was that we would build on the first year,” Moore said. “So these are a repeat—a repeat—of the first year, with the exception of the work plan being added on there.”
Moore further explained herself and Mangum had a committee meeting one-on-one twice. In that meeting, part of the conversation was around goals, where goals were met and if there were any questions.
Lawson stated it’s troubling to hear that the president questioned whether the board was clear on the nine factors that she identified, considering the board worked on the university’s Work Plan with her for the past two years.
“I think that’s troubling to hear that considering we worked on the work plan two years in a row for some of us,” Lawson said. “I’ve reviewed the process that we’ve walked through. It’s very consistent with the year. It is very consistent with other universities across the SUS…”
Lawrence said Mangum can’t succeed in any way that’s good enough unless the matter of relationships is tackled and overcome, according to the minutes.
“I think a section of this, that there is no question in my mind, that the president met the goals,” Lawrence said. “Where I have my greatest concern is in the area of relationships.”
Lawrence also stated in order for the university to successfully fundraise, he emphasized the ability to build relationships throughout this state and beyond the state.
“If you will pardon the expression, I think you need to know how to schmooze people. I think you need to enjoy doing that,” Lawrence said. “My question to the president, who I think is a highly capable human being … is how good is she at relationships in building with the legislature; with the governor; with people she might not like, but nonetheless from time to time sort of have to suck it up and get along with people for the larger interest of the university.”
The board voted to extend Mangum’s contract for one year, with executive coaching. The motion failed with a 5-7 vote.
As a follow-up to August’s meeting, Dortch moved that the chair appoint a special task force from this board, including student representation, to sit with Mangum to have discussions about a way to move forward. That plan of action would be solidified at September’s meeting in Orlando, Fla.
Student representation BOT member and Student Government Association president Jaylen Smith was not present in Sept. 2 BOT meeting.
“I wasn’t able to attend because of some discrepancies of my flight, but I do believe that it should be brought to the table,” Smith said. “The table should include all students because students are the chief stakeholders of FAMU.”
With still more uncertainty about Mangum’s further employment as president of FAMU, the Sept. 2 meeting resulted in a negotiation with Mangum and the special committee on presidential leadership.
This brings the saga full circle and finally to an end.
Prior to the Sept. 15 BOT meeting, students have demonstrated protest efforts to keep Mangum. One of which included a town hall meeting with the former president as she expressed her extreme disappointment to the students.
“I’ve been perceived as a very strong person. It’s disappointing,” Mangum said. “It’s disappointing because my goal will always be to provide the best opportunities and the best education to you students … but I’m not deterred and you shouldn’t be deterred.”
By the end of the Sept. 15 meeting Mangum was no longer “Rattler In Chief.”
“I feel good about what I’ve done,” Mangum said after the BOT made their decision to let her go. “The university is in a better position than it was when I came. The students are certainly more focused on completion and overall the institution.”
Dortch said the decision to let Mangum take a leave of absence was because he felt a “lame duck” president wouldn’t be efficient.
“April 1, her contract ends. As you look at congress when they use the term ‘lame duck,’ people know the president is on her way out. Some people will work with the president, and some won’t,” Dortch said.
Dortch also expressed another concern was when the BOT tried to extend her contract by one year, and she never made a clear decision within the 45 days on whether she accepted or not.
Accompanying their decision regarding Mangum’s employment, the board also decided to begin a presidential review committee to work on proposing a structure and procedures for selecting a new president.
Lawson said this would give the board the opportunity to step back and decide what type of person they want as a president.
“As opposed to rushing out trying to affirm and conducting a national search, it’s probably to our advantage to take a step back to decide what type of person do we want,” Lawson said.
Larry Robinson is interim president for the third time and Mangum has no intentions of aspiring to presidential leadership again.
“The conditions are always important to making a decision,” Mangum said. “Situations change, and needs change. This was a place, I think, that needed change.”
Alumni, faculty and students believe FAMU has a slew of issues regarding the presidential seat, but studies have shown it isn’t just a FAMU-thing.
With the growing popularity of online higher education and increases in tuition and fees at traditional higher-ed institutions, college students are thinking twice about who to give their money to. Historically Black Colleges and Universities are hit the hardest according to an article in Bacon’s Rebellion.
"I also would say that the presidential turnover rate at HBCUs is slightly higher," Gasman said. “It’s a smaller number of institutions so when you have a lot of turnover, you notice it a lot more. You see turnover at other institutions as well, it’s just that we’re only dealing with 105 institutions.”
Many HBCU presidents have resigned or have been fired in the last few years, according to Diverse Issues in Higher Education.
In the last three years, Tuskegee, Howard, Shaw, Wilberforce and Norfolk State universities joined Bennett and Stillman colleges in the growing list of HBCUs to search for presidents.
The magazine attributes high turnover to the growing demands on today's HBCUs.
The 2013 article, written by Dianne Hayes, says there are a growing number of factors impacting HBCUs including: "the federal government debacle on the Parent Plus Loan situation, [and] support is down for Title III, which strengthens HBCUs. All of the support for HBCUs across the board is down. In addition, there are some institutions that don’t have enough students there."
The article goes on to say today's HBCU presidents must have, "a personality and gift for raising money for the university while maintaining the traditional connection to faculty and students. A president is required to keep his/her finger on the pulse of the university’s lifeline of recruitment, retention and graduation rates, as well as changing technology, including online education."
After Thursday’s BOT meeting, Gasman wondered who will be FAMU’s next president.
"At FAMU, presidential turnover is incredibly high. It’s hot healthy, it’s hurting the institution, and it’s hurting students," she added. "Who’s going to want to be president at FAMU now?"
Third time’s the charm
This will be Robinson’s third time as interim president and he hopes to keep the line of communication between Mangum’s constituents open.
“Hopefully the third time’s the charm. I do want to emphasize that I’m fully aware of the situation that we have found ourselves in and how important it is to reach out to Dr. Mangum’s constituents,” Robinson said. “They’re all important to us: the faculty, staff, students and alumni … we’re going to need their continued support.”