Trustees’ meeting reveals depleted reserve funds

Thursday’s full board trustees’ meeting featured faculty grievances, a revisiting of the presidential search and a spirited debate about FAMU DRS’ future.

Sandwiched between these high-profile issues, budget and finance committee Chairman Joe Lacher presented a sobering report on the depleted state of FAMU’s reserve budget.

The budget cuts handed down from the legislature after this fall’s special session have cut the university’s emergency coffers from a normal 5 percent of the operating budget to 1 1/2 percent.

In his office after the meeting, Interim President Henry Lewis III said in order to carry out the legislative budget cut, FAMU used $5.5 million of its $6 million in reserve to soften the blow and stave off massive faculty and staff layoffs.

“When I took office, my reserve was a negative $2,000,” Lewis said. “We have since made hiring freezes and travel budget cuts, and have increased our reserve to $1.4 million. That’s still a slim reserve.”

Lewis said that he is working to build up the fund to guard against emergencies, including the possibility of further budget cuts from the current legislative session. According to Lewis, all hiring decisions have been made for the 2002 fiscal year.

“We’re at the gristle of the bone right now,” Lewis said. “We can’t make any more cuts right now without endangering the academic integrity of FAMU.”

At the meeting, Lewis said that continuing education programs were running at a loss and would be cut back. He added that the president’s office would have recommendations soon about possible further cuts in other academic areas.

Bill Jennings, presidential search committee chairman, spoke before Lacher, unveiling a revised timeline to replace former president Frederick Humphries. On January 9, Jennings laid out a schedule providing for a final decision on FAMU’s president by late March.

The updated search calendar calls for the full roster of candidates to be interviewed between March 25-27, with the list being pared down to three finalists. Jennings announced a possible April 21 interview date for those finalists, but backed off after Lewis noted how close the date was to the April 27 graduation ceremony.

Chairman Art Collins said he was going to try to move the date up earlier in April, away from graduation. Collins emphasized that he felt there were candidates in the selection pool that deserved serious consideration for the presidency.

During the meeting, the notion of additional candidates waiting in the wings to apply for the job was raised again by Jennings.

Trustee Andrew Gillum wondered after the meeting if these candidates were ever going to surface.

“Whoever they are, I hope they come out,” Gillum said.

Gillum, having been voted down on Wednesday in his attempt to allow Lewis or any other interim president to be eligible for the permanent presidency, brought up the 5,000 student signatures in support of his proposal and suggested a broad dissatisfaction among students with the board’s action .

“A lot of students don’t feel like there’s a need to attend these meetings. They don’t feel like they have a voice on this board,” Gillum said.

Outside the Grand Ballroom, Collins said he felt it was unfortunate that some students felt the board was insensitive to their concerns.

He stressed that the board’s work on ensuring prompt delivery of financial aid and his week spent on campus living in the dorms showed the board’s concern for students.

Professor Bill Tucker wondered why the student government started a petition drive in opposition of a presidential leadership statement Gillum voted for.

“I think the issue is over,” Tucker said. “I think some of it has to do with the fact that Lewis is a graduate of the school. I guess it won’t go any further. We’ll see.”

Tucker also made an appearance before the board on behalf of the faculty union, presenting grievances.

A major point of contention with the union involved the lack of a free tuition benefit for faculty and staff at the university. Tucker said that every other university except FAMU provides some sort of assistance to its faculty.

Lewis countered that FAMU could not absorb the costs.