FAMU Discord Continues With Calls For Trustee Chair Montgomery To Step Down
The ongoing and very public conflict between Florida A & M University President Elmira Mangum and her board chairman is flaring up again. It occurred weeks after Mangum and the board agreed to “reset” their relationship. Now some alumni are calling on Rufus Montgomery to step down as chairman of the board.
In FAMU President Elmira Mangum’s first evaluation, the Board of Trustees complained about a lack of communication, fundraising and a decision to transfer the budget of the joint FAMU-Florida State College of Engineering, worth millions, to FSU. But it’s been Mangum’s interactions with Chairman Rufus Montgomery that have garnered the most attention.
“If someone needs to talk to us about something they have a question about, the phone rings both ways, as stated earlier," Mangum told Montgomery as the two clashed in a June meeting. "You asked me to move the board meeting, I said okay. We never move the board meeting for a president," he said.
That was during the lead-up to the poor performance review. It’s only one example of how the two have clashed during the past year. Mangum and the board have tried to reset their relationship, But Monday, it fell apart.
In a letter sent to FAMU board chairman Rufus Montgomery, Mangum detailed an earlier phone meeting between the two. She claims Montgomery demanded answers from her immediately, and writes when she told him she was doing performance reviews and would call him back, he said it would amount to "rank insubordination". She claims Montgomery has violated her rights as an employee.
But that meeting was pre-arranged, and it marks at least the second time Mangum has hung up the phone on the board chairman who is, effectively, her boss. Wednesday a group of state lawmakers, who are also alumni, called for Montgomery to resign the chairmanship.
“We should be in a posture of one team, one voice moving forward where FAMU is strong forever," said Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee. "Unfortunately, because of ongoing back-and-forth between board chairman Rufus Montgomery and President Elmira Mangum, I believe the brand of FAMU is being impacted.”
Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, believes Montgomery is the cause of the discord.
“The motivator of all the dissension comes from him," she said. "When you jump the president’s first words, you’ve got new board members and you don’t say hello, or when you say, ‘she doesn’t smile back at me’, there are a lot petty things going on here and its apparent its personality."
Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville and Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, also joined, along with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Noticeably absent however, was FAMU’s alumni association. President Tommy Mitchell Senior says the group was asked, but declined.
"The president is a public figure funded by public dollars, and the first level of questioning starts with the board of trustees"
“While we chose not to be part of that press conference, we’re equally concerned about the dilemma of our board chair and president of being unable to work together.”
Mitchell argues the battles between Mangum and Montgomery are largely policy, not pettiness.
“The president is responsible for the operation of the university, however it seems the board feels if there’s a decision made that involves the budget—they feel it’s a policy issue," he said.
Also, not everyone believes Mangum has been wronged, nor do they believe Montgomery is the bad-guy.
“The president is a public figure funded by public dollars, and the first level of questioning starts with the board of trustees," says retired FAMU Professor and former Board of Trustee member Narayan Persaud.
He says the blunt questions Montgomery has leveled at Mangum are on point.
“There are no communications with faculty that are meaningful," Persaud said of Mangum. "She’s traveling a lot and they have not seen any strategic planning on where the university will be or is going; people are being hired and the people being hired are not the choices of the committees.”
Mangum has made trips across the county and to China and Brazil, raising questions about the cost. Persaud says he also believes some of the tilt against Montgomery, a Republican and Governor Rick Scott appointee, is political:
“If you already made a request to the board of governors to conduct an investigation, why not wait until that investigation is fully finished?”
Montgomery addressed the concerns in a statement.
"It’s important for all stakeholders involved to be mindful of our mission to provide a world-class educational environment for our students. I will honor the decision and level of confidence that Board members showed in my leadership earlier this month when they unanimously re-elected me to a full two-year term as chairman. While certain elected officials have always stood behind FAMU, their vantage point doesn’t afford them the same level of interaction or responsibility required of the chairman of the Board and other trustees. For the good of the institution and to prevent charges of undue political interference, I hope that our elected officials will allow our Board to do the job we were appointed to do."
FAMU’s accreditation group the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, prohibits political interference in university affairs. The issue arose a few years ago when Governor Rick Scott suggested former President James Ammons resign amid the hazing death of a marching band drum major. Still, most observers say something will eventually have to give between Mangum and Montgomery. Montgomery was recently unanimously re-elected as chairman.
The FAMU alumni lawmakers previously wrote a letter to the state university system governing board accusing Montgomery of bullying Mangum. A spokeswoman for the Florida board of governors says the board is continuing to assess the concerns and is still, “working with FAMU leadership to promote a healthy dialogue and positive governance environment."