The Ammons Report, Part Two

Florida A&M University President James Ammons has not been shy about his confidence in the university. He has said openly that he believes the institution will be ready for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ visit on Oct. 4 and 5.

“I’m very confident,” said Ammons in an exclusive interview. “We have resolved most of the issues in the operational audit.”

Since the University was placed on probation on June 29, 2007, the Ammons administration at FAMU has been working to prepare for the SACS visit to campus next month.

The Ammons administration submitted a monitoring report to SACS on Friday, noting the progress thus far.

The institution’s financial dealings were a big factor in SACS decision to place the university on probation said Vivian Hobbs, SACS liaison for FAMU. But Hobbs said there were other factors that played a role.

• The 35 findings the auditor general found in a report that the state of Florida conducts every two years.

• During the 2007 spring semester, hundreds of university employees complained to SACS that they weren’t getting paid.

• During the time when the audit findings came out, FAMU did not have an acting chief executive officer. Castell Bryant, former interim president, took leave and the Board of Trustees appointed Larry Robinson to act as chief operating officer, which showed instability.

• The chairman of the Board of Trustees for the university resigned followed by several other trustees resigning.

“With all of this stuff compounded it looked like this thing is out of control,” Hobbs said. “So they went to the farthest most severe punishment and that is probation.”

SACS has 85 standards for reaffirmation, a process that takes place every 10 years. When the university was placed on probation, SACS found that FAMU was in violation of 10 of those standards. Some of which matched up with the 35 audit findings, so they postponed FAMU’s reaffirmation process until 2008.

These standards are broken down into core requirements, comprehensive standards and Federal requirements.

Some of the 10 standards SACS said FAMU violated include: financial stability, control of finances, control of physical resources, qualified administrative/academic officers and governing board.

Charles O’dour, vice president for audit and compliance, said he has created a matrix that links some of the operational audit findings with the 10 SACS standards and proposes ways to solve them, as well as set due dates. O’dour said some of the findings are not linked to SACS issues.

“The progress looks pretty good,” he said. “The majority of the issues have been addressed by their set due dates.”

The State Auditor General also conducts a financial audit every year. In an audit conducted for the 2005-06 fiscal year, the auditor general uncovered 13 findings.

“We are addressing the 35 operational audit findings [from the State Auditor General],” O’dour said. “Concurrently we are addressing the 13 financial audit findings [from the State Auditor General].”

O’dour analyzed the 13 findings and prepared a summary, noting, for one that “the University bank account reconciliations were not timely and prepared properly.”

There were also problems with PeopleSoft Financials System providing reliable financial data. Other problems were in the areas of accounts receivable-student fees, capital assets and separation of duties.

O’dour said that the fiscal year, ending June 30, 2007, has not been audited yet.

At the President’s Convocation Friday, Ammons told an audience estimated at more than 3,500 people that “we may have some adverse findings when the audit for that years is released in spring 2008.”

The audit for Ammons’ first year in office will not take place for another year.

“I’m confident that by the 2007-2008 audit, the years for which I am responsible, we will achieve a positive audit and a clean bill of financial health.”

Most of the issues that needed to be addressed in the operational audit were in the financial and technology departments of the university, Ammons said.

Twenty four out of the 35 findings are in the Division of Administrative and Financial Services.

Joseph Bakker, associate vice president of the division, said 90 percent of the issues have already been resolved. He said they have also set up a system to monitor the corrective action.

Because some of the problems stem back years, O’dour said the new Ammons administration has had to thoroughly examine the issues.

“We are looking at the root causes and institutionalizing the corrective measures,” O’dour said. “We will then conduct tests to verify and validate that the new measures are operating as designed.”

Improvements have been made in the areas of salary payment and increases, leave records, employment evaluations and general disbursement controls, Bakker said.

“In order for us to resolve the issues that SACS had, it required us to put in place new processes, procedures and the finance and technology divisions of the university,” Ammons said.

Ammons said the progress that has been made has a lot to do with the new leadership.

“The people who are working directly with [finance and technology divisions] and also with the audit and compliance area, have had a tremendous amount of experience,” Ammons said. “So as you go in and you take a look at how these teams are working now, they are working in unison.”

Hobbs said that if SACS does not take the university off probation in December, they have the option to give the university up to two years to resolve the issues.

“But we want to get this taken care of now,” Hobbs said.

This is the second in a series of stories analyzing the progress made on the accreditation and financial accountability front, the members of Ammons’ new leadership team and his promise of open communication between the new administration and students, faculty and staff.