Students influence lawmakers

In the midst of weeks of turmoil for the University’s image, FAMU’s student government leaders have added one notch onto their belt for the future of FAMU. A budget amendment is in the works for the University to continue to control the finances for the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.

Today, the House of Representatives will vote whether or not FAMU will still reserve rights to oversee the financial affairs for the joint college.

Rep. Curtis Richardson, D-Tallahassee, and Sen. Al Lawson have worked on amendments to keep the financial control of the engineering college at FAMU.

Richardson said a budget amendment will transfer the $10.4 million budget to Florida A&M University.

Throughout the past few weeks news headlines and rumors have agitated many of FAMU’s students. Students worried about the status of the University in wake of the results of the March preliminary audit, which found $39 million in undocumented expenditures that has led some senators to cry for the University to be investigated. Others have voiced concern about FSU possibly taking control of the University. But Richardson said FAMU students should not worry about the rumors.

“Students can rest assured that questions that they have asked of the University will be answered,” Richardson said. “And there will be a restructuring of the Board of Trustees because they have not provided the proper oversight of the University.”

Student Body President Phillip Agnew and Monique Gillum, vice president, were excited to hear the news.

Monday the two met with Ken Pruitt, Florida Senate president, followed by an impromptu meeting with Sen. Evelyn Lynn, chairwoman of the higher education appropriations committee, about FAMU’s financial oversight at the college of engineering.

“Phillip and I went in with a strict plan of sticking to the topic,” said Gillum, 20, from Gainesville.

Agnew, 21, from Chicago, said he and Gillum expressed the unhappiness the students felt about the situation and the importance for FAMU to continue to run finances at the engineering college, especially with FAMU’s new president arriving soon.  

“(Incoming FAMU President James) Ammons deserves an opportunity to come in and survey the current situation and any situation affecting the University and then gather enough information to say whether he was able to handle those things,” said Agnew, a fourth-year business administration student.

Their meeting with Lynn, who originally agreed with the transfer of the budget to FSU, was successful in promoting FAMU’s continued financial management of the college of engineering budget.

Lynn encouraged the SGA leaders to hold the “University accountable in all areas.”

Although Agnew and Gillum disagreed on some topics, such as Lynn’s argument that shifting financial management would ease the burden for Ammons, Agnew said there was no factual basis for the transfer of the budget.

“Our rationale was, even throughout the audits and the supposed bad audits that we’ve had, there’s never been any evidence that we’ve mismanaged funds as it pertains to the engineering school,” Agnew said.

He also said the passion for FAMU to remain in control of the budget for the college lies in the fact that FAMU would not have authority in any other major aspect of the school.

“We would only be over maintenance,” he said. “(FSU) already has everything else. If they took over everything then the FAMU-FSU name would be just a farce. It would just be hollow.”

Tuesday, Agnew received information from Richardson that there was a good chance FAMU would regain fiscal control of the engineering college.

The feedback was satisfying for Gillum, a junior political science student.

“But now only a day later understanding that the money will not be moved, it gives me a great feeling to know that somebody listened to us,” Gillum said.

Agnew said they are expecting a lot of support for the bill. The house will review the budget and make a decision today, said Richardson.

But after the decision is made today there is still more work in store for FAMU.

Richardson said everyone must work together to resolve the University’s problems and hold FAMU accountable.

“At the same time we have to demand accountability on how taxpayers’ money is spent and the quality of service the students receive,” he said. “And I’m confident that that it will happen under the leadership of Dr. Ammons.”

Gillum, the elected SGA president for the 2007-2008 school year, said the next issue is to focus on providing Ammons with a “smooth transition” when he returns to FAMU as president. She and Richardson agreed that restructuring the Board of Trustees is a priority.

“There are some folks on our Board that I believe to be poisonous to this University, and I think those are things we need to start tackling at this point,” Gillum said.