The “winds of change” slowly blew through the campus of Florida A&M University while faculty and staff gathered in the Blue Cross Blue Shield Auditorium of the pharmacy building on Tuesday.
Five months after the Board of Trustees voted to terminate President Fred Gainous’ contract, the newly selected interim president assembled faculty in order to present a vision for FAMU’s future and communicate the hard facts about the university’s financial problems.
The empty auditorium soon filled with concerned, curious and anxious professors who anticipated the arrival of Castell Vaughn Bryant.
“If the interim president doesn’t talk to us about the union contract, money issues or raises then she doesn’t really care about the faculty,” said one member of the English department.
“There are so many other university’s giving their teachers raises, and we have yet to receive one.”
Bryant, 66, a former community college president, member of the Florida Board of Governors and the first woman president to lead FAMU, had her work cut out for her when she entered from the back of the auditorium and briefly mingled with faculty.
“I think we should start this meeting off with a prayer, but I promise I won’t take up a collection afterwards,” Bryant said.
The meeting began with Bryant professing her loyalty to her alma mater, FAMU. Bryant pledged to the faculty that she would make the University reclaim its place in excellence amongst HBCU’s and higher education.
However, Bryant made it painfully clear to the faculty that the hard work had only just begun.
“I am brutally frank, I am really honest and I don’t take excuses,” Bryant said.
“The problems that we have will soon be seen as only challenges and we will overcome them.”
The meeting also gave Bryant a chance to remind teachers that they are only at FAMU because of the students. She also chastised faculty members for gossiping about her and past administrators, instead of focusing on teaching their curriculum.
“I will provide the kind of leadership that is needed for us to be effective and efficient,” Bryant said.
“I am drawing a line in the sand, and anything that is B.C., well that just means Before Castell, and we are not going to live in the past… it’s time to move forward.”
During the meeting, Bryant combined tough talk and candid explanations of the University’s fiscal crisis with some humorous anecdotes in order to address teacher’s concerns.
“Those of you who are near retirement, you know how Social Security works. If these students don’t get jobs, we won’t get checks,” Bryant said.
After Bryant’s speech, she took questions from the audience.
The questions dealt with a variety of topics, from the search for the new SBI dean, to class size, to the collective bargaining rights of teachers. There were even a few questions about the broken promises former President Gainous made to the faculty.
Bryant answered the questions to the best of her ability and received a standing ovation by the end of the meeting.
“I believe that Dr. Bryant is a much needed breath of fresh air,” said Booker Daniels, an associate professor of Professional Development in the School of Business and Industry.
“When speaking to the faculty, her conviction and enthusiasm coupled with clearly stated objectives was motivating … Dr. Bryant reminded us, without saying so, that it was just a few short years ago that we were selected as College of the Year by the Princeton Review … her grade for her first presentation to the faculty is an A.”
Bryant told the faculty that she is working on a legislative packet, and she is talking with lobbyists to ensure that FAMU is well represented during the upcoming legislative session.
Other professors were also pleased with Bryant’s message.
“I was pretty impressed,” said Helen Hennessey, a professor of English in the School of General Studies.
“I like her because she genuinely seems like she will work on the University’s problems, and not dwell in the past … it makes me hopeful for the future.”
In the next two weeks, Bryant said she will visit all of FAMU’s colleges and schools in order to assess problems.
Bryant also said she also wants faculty to play an integral part helping her build a strategic plan for the University.
“I am not here to stay, but while I am here, with your help, I will do the best job that I can do,” Bryant said.
“And once we build this solid foundation, don’t let anyone tear it up again.”
Contact Malcolm Glover at firstname.lastname@example.org.