Six of Florida A&M’s top employees either quit to work for other schools, retired or were demoted this semester.
The recent losses mean that 11 dean, director and vice president positions are vacant around campus. Among the vacancies – Pharmacy, Engineering Sciences, Technology and Agriculture, FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, VP student affairs, research and last week, university relations –VP Carla Willis submitted her resignation on Friday.
The School of Nursing boasts the oldest of these vacancies. In spring 2008, Ruena Norman was appointed to interim dean of the school.
Three years without a permanent dean may seem alarming, especially in the mist of talks of budget cuts and a major restructuring that may lead to job cuts.
Every state agency has been asked to develop plans to cut its budget by 15 percent by July 1, said president James Ammons.
“This restructuring exercise permits the university to focus on its strengths, review administrative and academic programs and reduce our expenditures,” Ammons said in “Linked,” campus newsletter.
To cope with the recent defections, interim deans and directors were appointed to fill the vacancies except for the two most recent – Willis and former Dean Makola Abdullah of CESTA.
“Vacant dean positions will not put us at a disadvantage,” said Cynthia Hughes Harris, the provost and vice president of Academic Affairs. “Interim deans are knowledgeable about the academic unit for which they have responsibility, and they have the necessary experience, skills and credentials to lead the unit until a permanent dean is identified.”
Once a position becomes vacant and an interim is appointed, the university establishes a search committee, which seeks to fill the vacant dean positions with the “best-qualified” candidates as quickly as possible, Hughes Harris said. Committees are meeting to find candidates for the Chief Information Officer, Dean of Nursing, VP of Students Affairs and Director of Students Activities.
“It’s better to be sure than sorry,” Maurice Holder, president of the Faculty Senate, said. “You don’t want to speed up your search process because you’re restructuring.”
Holder said he is not overly concerned about the key departures. But one potential problem, he said, is if the faculty starts leaving due to fears of restructuring and transitioning to new ways of doing things. The faculty is critical because of its involvement in research, publishing and other efforts to bring additional revenue to the university, he said. He worries that losses in faculty will “erode” the university.
“The faculty and units and divisions are the only ones that are true residents of the campus. They remain whether or not you have a new or old dean,” said Holder. “But if the faculty remains strong and committed to this university, it’s going to be hard for even restructuring to make an adverse affect on us.”
Amid the talk of restructuring, Edward Willis, who chairs the search for the new director of Student Activities, is pushing forward with candidate interviews. He is confident that the university will safeguard key positions and programs despite vacancies.
“We wouldn’t be going through the process if we didn’t think it was critical,” Willis said. “Restructuring and reinvestment is really about strengthening those things that are key, critical and important – Student Activities is one of those. I think students can be assured that these kinds of programs will remain.”
While the Faculty Senate is engaged in the restructuring debate, the FAMU chapter of the United Faculty of Florida, the faculty union, is “vigorously policing” the budget proposal to protect the rights of faculty, students and staff, said union president Elizabeth Davenport.
“Currently, the union is represented on the president’s advisory team,” Davenport said. “The faculty of these colleges should [also] be actively involved in the process.”
Davenport said the FAMU community should support restructuring by participating in discussions and offering input. And students must embrace their responsibility as the ultimate consumer, she said. For Willis that also means that students need to be a part of interview sessions when candidates visit campus.
Holder, whose term as Faculty Senate President ends June 30, is not worried about what restructuing will bring.
“I am confident that we are going to be able to pull off restructuring, but it’s not going to be easy,” Holder said. “Nothing that Florida A&M has ever had to do was as easy as the other state university systems, because we are operating from a different perspective, from a different mission.”