BOT interviews finalists for presidential candidacy

The university board of trustees interviewed two finalists for Florida A&M’s 11th presidency this morning: Elmira Mangum and John Price.

Members of the board directed questions to Mangum, vice president for budget and planning at Cornell University, for more than an hour before having her escorted to the next phase of her interview and bringing in Price, former founding president of the University of North Texas at Dallas, for an identical process.

Trustee Kelvin Lawson was interested in Mangum’s strategies as university president to develop a strong relationship with the BOT, which he believes is one aspect of a successful president.

Mangum said they would have to begin by understanding and establishing the roles of the board and the latitude the president has to manage and lead the institution.

“I believe that board is one that sets policy, that helps govern, but that the president manages,” Mangum said. “But I also believe that the board should be fully informed of what’s happening on the campus. That means establishing committees around areas of interest that the board would want to be informed about and sharing information. I do believe in transparency.”

Mangum was also asked to address her approach to helping improve recruitment and retention, what she called an important metric for success.

“The graduation rate, and I’m sorry, but I just think it’s way too low,” said Mangum, who added that she was aware of the statistics around the six-year graduation rates of both FAMU and historically black colleges. “We need to work to understand our students to make sure that they have the resources they need and that we have done all that we can to make sure that economics and finances are not the reason why students are not graduating or persisting through college.”

To raise the graduation rates, she said, the university should provide support to the students when they arrive.

“I think we need a commitment for student completion,” Mangum said. “If we admit the student, we should commit to that student’s success in finding out and doing the assessments upon admission, push students into those programs and develop programs that actually will help them achieve success …”

After a brief recess, Price was up to begin his interview with the board. Trustee Karl White asked Price of his previous experiences at UNT at Dallas and how they would help enhance FAMU.

Price said his experience as the leader of the creation of UNT at Dallas made him a unique candidate.

“As you might imagine, creating a university from the ground up requires great many different skillsets,” Price said. “One of those skillsets was to be able to work with the Legislature in order to secure the necessary funding to create the university and to operate the university.

"Also, I had to work with the various stakeholders in the city of Dallas and the surrounding communities in order to garner external support for the creation and the operation of the university as well. … I think those experiences have uniquely qualified me to come to FAMU and make a contribution here.”

Trustee Cleve Warren asked Price about his opinion on major issues in higher education and how they affect FAMU and other HBCUs.

Among the issues of “bringing the university model to the 21st century” and stopping “pointing the finger at K-12” institutions, Price said, one of the largest challenges is the affordability of college.

“Higher education is under a crisis nationally because one of the biggest challenges facing higher education is the rising cost of college,” Price said. “It’s gotten to the point where it has even attracted national attention because of our response to declining student state revenues at state colleges and universities. And that’s a model that is unsustainable because it will put getting an education out of reach for many students because of the high cost.”

He later added that in order to strengthen the student body, he would expand on the K-12 partnerships FAMU already has in place.

“I would look for ways to try and strengthen those partnerships to ensure that you got a robust pipeline of high-quality students that are ready, willing and able so that we can have high-quality inputs coming in,” Price said. “We would enhance those inputs during their stay here, and certainly, high input in would result in a higher input out in terms of the talent we produce here at the university.”