Alumni torn over University changes

Every night, Nathaniel Pilate, a 1957 FAMU graduate scans headlines about his alma mater and shudders.

The seasoned man sits behind a computer screen in his home office – where walls are adorned with plaques including “Outstanding Leadership” – and reads articles from the Tallahassee Democrat’s online edition: “Trust at issue for FAMU budget;” “Legislators see FAMU progress, but not enough;” and “Financial security threatened.”

Since Interim President Castell V. Bryant took the wheel in January, the University has been in the process of an overhaul. With the terminations, suspensions of or resignations from many administrators, a university-wide spending freeze and an employee cell phone recall, alumni are torn somewhere between celebration and silence.

Pilate prefers silence.

As the former president of the Florida A&M University National Alumni Association from 1991-1997, Pilate has seen the top of the Hill.

“It was during the good years,” Pilate boasted.

“The ‘College of the Year’ years.”

But Pilate said due to a Board of Trustees that exhibits less than professional behavior and a faulty presidential selection process, the University has been falling ever since.

“We’re on a downhill spin now and unless something happens to turn it around, we’ll be in a freefall,” Pilate said, “no telling where we’ll end up.”

Demetral R. Wester, however, is celebrating Bryant’s managerial methods.

“(Bryant) knows what to do and is not afraid to do it,” said Wester, who is on the executive board of the National Alumni Association and a member of the Jacksonville Alumni Chapter.

“Whether it be freezing or terminations or resignations or what have you, she has us going in the right direction,” she said. “We’re no longer throwing good money out the bag.”

Wester graduated from FAMU in 1956. Her children and grandchildren graduated from FAMU, so she said she has a vested interest in what happens. Wester said Bryant’s immediate action has propelled the University to the right course.

On the other hand, Pilate said a lack of foresight has stifled the University’s growth.

“I’m concerned about the hastiness of the decisions – the tendency to fire someone without any knowledge about who she’s going to replace them with,” Pilate said.

“That was the downfall of Gainous.”

However, for Pilate, all news is not bad news. He said he believes the spending freeze, for instance, will help alleviate the deficit. But the main difference between Pilate and Wester is that Wester is still involved.

Pilate, however, has stepped away from the Hill in terms of an official position. He only watches the University’s progress from his residence in central Florida, checking the Democrat every night and reading the Capitol Outlook.

Pilate said his role parallels that of any former NAA president.

“Every time you get up to speak, they say ‘sit down,'” Pilate said.

“I served my time.”

Pilate will admit that he didn’t support Bryant at first. Her methods, he said, seemed brash and her alleged “hit list” made her come off as some tactless tyrant.

But Wester said she has faith in Bryant, believes in her methods and feels comfortable that with her leadership, FAMU will find its way back to the top.

“I am confident that she’ll get us back on the right track so that we can once again smile with our chests out as we did when we were college of the year,” Wester said.

“We just got to be patient. I’m sure she’ll get us there.”

Despite his concerns, Pilate is too attached to look away. With all eyes on Bryant, he will be reading articles every night for a progress report.

“If she fails,” Pilate said, “then FAMU is in grave trouble.”

Pilate said he hopes he never has to read that headline.

Contact Russell Richols at