Political pressure mounts as embattled FAMU president Ammons hangs on

Jun 8, 2012

Florida A & M University President James Ammons is under increasing pressure to resign and that pressure went up another notch this week.  At a meeting of FAMU’s board, trustee’s issued a vote of no-confidence in the embattled president. The move is the latest stemming from the hazing death of one of the school’s drum major, Robert Champion.

The “no-confidence” vote against Ammons comes after FAMU officials said last month that more than a hundred members of the band had been allowed to travel and participate without being enrolled at the university. In calling for the vote, FAMU Trustee Bill Jennings called that news a misuse of public money and trust.

“In light of some of the things that have transpired since our last meeting, I feel there’s been a breakdown in the leadership structure of the university as well as the internal controls of the university,”  Jennings said before making a motion to call for the vote.

The extra students came to light through a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into hazing in the band. Jennings also took Ammons to task over incomplete audits done by the school’s ex-audit director. At least five of the 15 missing reports were tied to the band’s finances.

Only four of FAMU’s trustees sided with Ammons. Board member Kelvin Lawson said much of the ability to deal with the fallout from the hazing scandal and audit issues was taken out of the administration’s control.

“I feel that the administration has been somewhat tied to their ability to act due to the external investigations taking place and the university’s administration was specifically asked to stand down.” 

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement told the school to stop any administrative actions until its investigations were complete.

Shortly after the board issued its vote, the Board of Governor’s chimed in.  It’s Chairman Dean Colson commended FAMU Trustees  board for their action. But others, notably, FAMU’s alumni base—pushed back.

"Why is a president being asked to step down for being unable to control a ritual that no other person in this country has been able to eliminate?”   

FAMU Alumni President Tommy Mitchell railed against what he saw as a bias against FAMU and the way the school has been portrayed in media reports.

“The reason individuals are asking for Dr. Ammons’ resignation is because it supports what some believe about Historically black institutions—that they’re unnecessary, outdated and un-needed in the 21st Century,”   he said shortly after trustees concluded their meeting.

In the last few weeks, several newspaper editorials have called for Ammons’ resignation and a complete overhaul of the school’s administration.

The “no-confidence” vote also comes days after the Board of Governor’s chair Colson wrote a letter citing problems with the way the school’s administration has handled the ongoing hazing cases. But some are calling the move “political interference”, something that the agency that accredits FAMU, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, has warned state officials against doing.

“I’m disappointed by the state board of Governors has injected themselves into the matter in the way that they’ve said the board of trustees must take action. We’ll they did that back in January. So for the Chairman of the BOG to inject himself into this process concerns me,”  said Representative Allen Williams, a Tallahassee Democrat, and FAMU alumnus.

FAMU’s board of trustees voted to reprimand Ammons in December. Members of the Board of Governors are appointed by Governor Rick Scott, who was one of the first to suggest Ammons step down. FAMU’s board of trustees rejected that call in a January meeting.  In his letter to FAMU Trustees, the Board of Governors’ Colson also expressed concern over a student-on-student sexual abuse case at FAMU’s lab school, and the accreditation status of two therapy programs, which are on probation.  Ammons says he got the board’s message loud and clear:

"This is very serious. This is very serious for the future of this university and you have my commitment to fix it and get the job done.”  

The FAMU board’s 8-to-4 “no confidence” vote was one shy of a majority needed to formally call for Ammons’ resignation.  There is one vacant position in the group. The Board of Governors will appoint that person at its June meeting.