Florida A&M Trustees Put Off Decision on President

June 13, 2016

Florida A&M University’s Board of Trustees decided Friday to take no action on President Elmira Mangum’s future, choosing not to renew her contract as she enters the final academic year of a three-year deal following a recent history marked by contention and criticism -- even as some students and alumni praise her for making long-overdue changes.

Trustees indicated they would take up Mangum’s contract at their next meeting, currently scheduled for September. That means they’ll revisit the issue after the passing of a deadline written into Mangum’s contract calling for her and trustees to confer on a renewal or extension by June 30. If no deal is reached, the contract calls for Mangum to complete her term in April 2017.

But board Chairman Kelvin Lawson said he wanted more data on Mangum’s performance before the board acts. He had asked Mangum for a 45-day contract deadline extension, allowing board members to evaluate her performance and review a self-evaluation she submitted Thursday. The two sides did not agree on a timeline extension, prompting the board to delay action after virtually no public discussion.

Eight of FAMU’s 13 trustees are new in the last six months. Lawson and Mangum have been on opposite sides of the table in the past, with Lawson moving to fire her in October.

While trustees shared few public comments on the contract during their meeting, FAMU faculty members, students and alumni addressed the issue during an extended public comment session. Some urged the board to keep Mangum, saying she was dealing with issues that would be difficult for any administrator to manage. Others urged them to replace her, arguing the university is not in a better place after two years of her management.

Mangum herself appeared to allude to the issue during a report to the board that came before trustees voted on her contract. She is focused on putting money into classrooms and students, and FAMU has improved its performance under Florida’s performance funding model, she said. But she argued that the institution has to adapt to keep up with societal changes.

“We will continue to make the tough decisions,” she said. “Because that’s the only way we are going to get a different outcome.”

The decision not to act on the contract came a day after a high-profile 11-member group addressed a harshly worded open letter to the Board of Trustees, urging against the renewal of Mangum’s contract. The Reverend R. B. Holmes, a former FAMU trustee and president of the Tallahassee Chapter of the National Action Network, was the lead signee of the letter. Other signees included former FAMU presidents and former interim presidents.

The letter alleged improprieties, mismanagement and inconsistencies during Mangum’s tenure. It cited disenfranchisement of students, faculty, alumni and staff while also arguing that controversy and division swirled around Mangum’s administration. It also pointed to tension between administration and faculty, disharmony within the administration’s leadership team and staff, and a purported lack of vision, goals and objectives. In addition, the letter brought up a charge that has repeatedly been levied at Mangum: poor communication with trustees.

“Our future has fallen victim to a recalcitrant administration engaged in a campaign to sustain an individual, not FAMU,” the letter read. “The embarrassing improprieties, mismanagement and inconsistencies are constant.”

Mangum replied to the letter Thursday, saying she did not understand Holmes’s motivation.

“I don’t understand the authority he is speaking from, so I don’t know why he is saying what he is saying,” Mangum said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

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