Board comes under scrutiny for firings, policy violations

Controversial firings.

The Florida A&M University administration ignoring proper procedures and shared governance.

Very few topics lacked controversy Thursday as the university Board of Trustees endured harsh criticism of FAMU’s leadership.

The board had to rescind the recent firings of eight School of Business and Industry faculty members.

The actions against the professors fired up the audience and certain board members-especially when the fact arose that contrary to popular belief, all of the laid off faculty were not unqualified or lacking PhDs.

The administration failed to notify the eight professors properly, give them due process, or offer them alternate positions, all of which violate the board’s agreement with the United Faculty of Florida Union.

Patrick Liverpool, interim dean of SBI, said the school wants to restructure the entire program by limiting the professional development area of the eight professors.

But SBI officials didn’t fully inform all proper departments about the curriculum change and they falsely claimed all of the professors were not qualified by the standards of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

“Where does one go to get justice at this university?” asked Thomas Jefferson, one of the SBI professors. “They want to redo the letters (for professors to leave their offices in five days) because they screwed up. But in the court of law you can’t give your word back, and they can’t give those letters back.”

Jefferson believes he was one of the AACSB qualified employees, and he said the SBI leaders never met with the professors about the curriculum changes or the layoffs.

The plan of the university to fire 40 more professors by Dec. 31 because of a lack of credentials also led to protest.

Debra Austin, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said after a three level review by the university the 40 faculty members will be notified by June 30 and have to demonstrate compliance in six months or less. Board members added the SBI professors to this list.

The problems with the 40 range from missing one course to lacking serious credentials.

Trustees such as R.B.Holmes argued that six months is not adequate time for them to prepare, and others questioned the credibility of these findings after issues with the three level review and the problems with the SBI firings.

William Tucker, the chief negotiator of the faculty, said the firings in general have affected the morale of the faculty. “There is gripping fear-people are wondering who the 40 are-that’s10 percent of the faculty.”

Firing controversy continued with Investigator General Michael E. Brown, who was placed on paid leave by Interim President Castell V. Bryant June 15 for opening an investigation on top administration officials. The general acts independently from the administration and is not supposed to controlled by the university president.

Bryant said a department higher than the university is investigating the general and he should return to the university.

But the general’s lawyer said he should not have been placed on leave for doing his job.

Tucker agreed. “The administration can’t stop an investigation,” he said. “The board ignoring the firing of the inspector general is condoning wrongdoing.”

With the exception of the inspector general, most of the firings centered on the 2008 reaccredidation of the university and individual schools.

The university is currently doing an internal audit, Austin said, because all areas of FAMU will be accessed, from finances to credentialed faculty members and the effectiveness of leadership.

Another issue is the university’s finances, because a draft audit report for the 2004-2005 school year shows gaps in financial reports and a $2.7 million surplus instead of the previously reported $8 million.

Trustees such as Holmes and Faculty Senate President Mary B. Diallo questioned the $5.3 million gap, but Bryant said they cannot accurately speak about the finances until the university reviews its findings compared to the auditors.

Many speakers emphasized the urgency of a permanent president for the betterment of the university.

Holmes set a deadline to hire the permanent president by August 2007, but various speakers wanted a quicker deadline.

National Alumni Association President Alvin Bryant said alumni want a new president by December 2006.

He voiced his opinions against the firings and said the administration cannot “throw out university procedures.”

Ultimately the role of the board is to supervise the administration, and the alumni president said this has been done properly. He challenged BOT Chairwoman Challis Lowe to properly enforce the policies of the university or resign.

Certain members of the board and public speakers focused on Bryant and her right as an interim to make certain decisions.

The interim president cannot just hold the university together until a permanent president comes-they must make tough decisions, Lowe said.

“I had no idea about the severity of FAMU’s problems until I became president,” Bryant said. “There are four positions in this town people feel they can do better than the person in the position-and one of those is the president of FAMU.”

Ebonie Ledbetter can be reached at