On The Chopping Block

After months of speculation, President James Ammons dropped the news on Monday: about 200 employees will be laid off at the end of June and 22 academic programs will be cut as part of a major restructuring proposal to deal with the current money crunch.

The layoff will mostly affect clerical and administrative staff, however some faculty positions will be lost, Ammons said.

“With the plan that we have developed, we are hoping that this will be at least a two year plan so we won’t have to come back here next year with this kind of discussion,” Ammons told a somber in a largely empty Al Lawson Center. “But we won’t know until the legislature finishes.”

According to administration officials, since 2007, Florida A&M has experienced a $35 million reduction to its budget. Now, the university must address the potential 15 percent projected cut, which could result in a $13.3 million reduction for FAMU in fiscal year 2011-12. This reduction will occur in addition to the loss of $7.9 million in stimulus funding.

“If those cuts are deeper than we think, we are going to have to come back here next year and have this same conversation because the money just won’t be there,” Ammons said.

While many wondered if additional cuts would be made to the school’s budget, Ammons said he believed that this year wouldn’t be the last year for belt tightening.

As part of the restructuring, 86 filled positions will be eliminated as well as 110 employees who are now being paid with stimulus funds.

Ten academic programs could be merged and several others might be removed completely.

Ammons said that his team looked at enrollments, number of degrees granted, the number of grant dollars that have been generated by faculty in those departments and they fell into a category of being low-productivity programs.

“We’re not recommending that we eliminate every program that was on the Board of Governors list because we believe that some of those programs are important to our mission,” Ammons said.

The audience roared its disapproval when Ammons said seven programs were on the chopping block from a single school, the College of Education.

Some of the programs from the College of Education include the bachelor’s of both art and business education. Master’s in both math and English education are also on the chopping block.

First-year education student Makia Edwards, 19, is concerned about her future and those of her classmates.

“I can’t believe they’re cutting all of those programs,” Edwards said. “They are missing out on a lot of good potential students. Many people rely on FAMU as their only way to get an education.”

Edwards, an Orlando resident, said that her confidence in FAMU has teetered a bit since learning what programs may be cut.

“This is a place that I would want to send my kids one day, and now I can’t even be sure the programs they want will be here,” Edwards said.

Knowing that FAMU’s hip-hop institute was not one of the 22 endangered programs sent the audience into a small uproar.

However, Ammons defended the program by saying that the institute is part of culture.

“I know there are some of us who don’t indentify with hip-hop,” Ammons said. “Hip-hop is part of our culture and I think if we’re going to have a university that is truly a place of education, all of those issues within our culture should be provided to our student body.”

But among all of the reductions, the one that could possibly hurt the most could be the layoffs, long-time employees. As part of the forum, the university had packets available for stress relief and unemployment benefits.

Employees like George Brumao, 51, who rely on a steady paycheck to support his family, hopes that he will not have to use one of those packets.

“I’d be able to make it a little bit beyond paycheck to paycheck, but if I missed more than two, I’d be in a really tough situation,” said Brumao, who has been working at Coleman Library for more than 11 years.