Provost informs faculty and staff

Provost and Vice-President of Academic Affairs Debra Austin’s first general faculty meeting was met with mixed reviews as she outlined her vision for continued commitment to student success, faculty cohesiveness, and improved technological and facility infrastructure.

Prior to Wednesday’s faculty meeting, Austin, who officially became the provost Sept. 6, had met regularly with administration members and sporadically with individual faculty members.

“We want to be widely recognized as a top University that develops leaders for the future, where every faculty member is totally committed to student success through exceptional teaching, outstanding research and dedicated service,” Austin said.

Besides sharing expectations for the future, Austin also relayed the sobering realities of the present, which she optimistically coined, “opportunities for improvement.”

Improvement efforts will focus on increasing not only the quantity of students enrolled, but the quality as well, with additional efforts directed at graduation rates.

Student enrollment at FAMU is down 877 students for the fall 2005 semester. Also, the average high school GPA of entering freshman has declined from 3.13 last year to 3.09 this fall. Average freshmen SAT scores are also down from 941 to 937.

Additionally sobering are FAMU’s graduation rates: the four-year graduation rate is 18 percent in comparison to the statewide average of 40 percent, and its six-year graduation rate is 15 percent lower than the state’s average.

Austin said these statistics are important because, “Declines can affect not only tuition revenue, but future state dollars, faculty recruitment efforts as well as give the perception that the University’s existence is threatened.”

Stressing to faculty the need for cooperation, Austin said, “We can not be successful unless we are a team.”

“We are passionate about our institution. This is not a job; we have to feel the need to improve,” Austin said. “I have a group of dedicated faculty who are passionate about our institution.”

Currently there is a request for 127 new faculty members at the University.

“FAMU has most faculty members in tenure soon reaching the age of 65,” Austin said. “We have to not hire because it’s convenient, but because it will bring something to the University.”

Austin’s message was well received by many of the faculty members.

“Morale (within the faculty) was low,” Barbara Barnes, chairwoman of the department of secondary education and foundation said. “Her presentation heightened morale. Teamwork will be essential.”

Barnes agreed with the need for improved facilities and more user-friendly technology for students and faculty.

“A key point to any student’s success is to make sure the environment is good,” Barnes said, believing that the University has to “do what we need to do to insure the success of our students.”

“Data is so critical to faculty and what we have to do,” Barnes added. Austin also assured faculty that she would “look at the priority of adequate compensation,” for tenured employees.

But the average salary of newer FAMU faculty is above average for the state. She wants to implement various initiatives to include all faculty members into the culture of the University.

Some faculty members, such as journalism professor Michael Abrams, believe promises mean little without specific plans of action. “I thought the presentation was very vague and general,” Abrams said. “I’d like to give her a chance to do something.

As they say though, the devil’s in the details.” Barnes said the faculty, administration and staff have to work together to improve the University and “do what we need to do to insure the success of our students.”

Christopher Henderson contributed to this article.Contact Alaythia C. Burkins at