Politics

FAMU Taps Cornell Veep as First Woman President

By: Margie Menzel News Service of Florida | Posted: January 10, 2014 3:55 AM
Elmira Mangum

Elmira Mangum

In a whirlwind finale to its presidential search, the Florida A&M University board of trustees on Thursday named Elmira Mangum as the university's 11th president. She will be the first woman to serve as permanent president since FAMU was founded in 1887.

Currently the vice president for budget and planning at Cornell University, Mangum will also be the first FAMU president in 60 years who didn't graduate from the university.

She said her to-do list is "to strengthen the academic programs that we have, strengthen our faculty and provide the services that our students need to fulfill the promise that we made to them when they entered."

The trustees voted 10-2 to accept the search committee's recommendation of Mangum -- but only after a public hearing that showed widespread support for keeping Interim President Larry Robinson on a permanent basis.

Students, faculty and alumni told the trustees they wanted Robinson to stay after he steered the university through a difficult time.

FAMU has not had a full-time president since James Ammons resigned in the summer of 2012, following the hazing-related death of Marching 100 drum major Robert Champion after a football game in November 2011.

As a result of Champion's death and a series of questionable audits, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools placed FAMU on probation in December 2012.

Robinson, who had been provost under Ammons, was tapped as interim president in July 2012. During his 18 months in that role, he led the university in resolving financial irregularities and instituting a campus-wide anti-hazing initiative. Last month, the regional accrediting body lifted FAMU's probation -- a critical decision because otherwise, the university wouldn't have been able to accept federal financial aid. And the Marching 100 returned from suspension in August with a new director, new roster and a new set of rules.

"Dr. Robinson’s steady leadership in the past 18 months has helped the university regain its footing and resume its tradition of accountability and excellence," said Marshall Criser III, chancellor of the state university system, in a statement Thursday. "The Board of Governors appreciates his service."

On Thursday, the trustees, led by chairman Solomon Badger, thanked Robinson for his service and gave him a standing ovation.

"I have no doubt in my mind that he was called for such a time as this," Badger said.

But Badger also noted that in considering Robinson's appointment in 2012, the board had asked him to refrain from applying for president "in order to attract a wide pool of candidates, and he agreed."

"It is incredibly difficult to recruit a talented group of applicants when they feel they are competing against an incumbent," Badger said.

However, FAMU Alumni Association President Tommy Mitchell said the alumni had asked the trustees seven months ago to retain Robinson, accusing the board of "contempt and arrogance" for taking so long to respond.

Mitchell said that whoever became president, the alumni would support FAMU, "but understand what you're asking us to do now that we are trying to get 25,000 new alumni to give money. We now have to ask them -- in spite of the disrespect that was shown to us -- 'We really need you to give money.' "

Still, many of the speakers who supported Robinson also told trustees that they preferred Mangum over the other finalist for the job, John Price, a former founding president at the University of North Texas at Dallas.

Although trustee Spurgeon McWilliams moved to reopen the search, the vote wasn't close --- 10-2 for Mangum, with one member absent. That was Kelvin Lawson, the brother of former state Sen. Al Lawson, who was among about 50 applicants for the job. Al Lawson was eliminated from contention last week.

Many of the trustees praised Mangum's qualifications.

Some also took time to rebut the charge that they had acted improperly by asking Robinson in 2012 not to apply for the permanent post.

"It was my understanding -- and I think the board took into consideration -- that the speed at which it appointed him that day was in no small part due to the understanding that he would not be a permanent candidate for the position," trustee Rufus Montgomery said. "And so I think that has been left out of the conversation here today."

Montgomery called Mangum "exceptionally qualified … I believe she will be a change agent for the university."

Mangum, 60, has been at her post at Cornell since 2010. She was senior associate provost at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and vice provost at the University of Buffalo. She was a member of the inaugural class of the Millennium Leadership Institute and attended the Harvard Graduate School of Education Management Development Program and Cornell's Administrative Management Institute.

After the vote, trustee Karl White, who chaired the search committee, said the presidential search had been his sixth -- and the most difficult. A complicating factor, he said, was Florida's Sunshine Law, which requires public universities to make the names of presidential candidates public. As a result, Mangum and others who made the trustees' short list didn't apply until a week ago.

Robinson said after the meeting that he's had inquiries about serving at other historically black colleges and universities, "and I wouldn't rule that out."


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