As relations between Florida A&M University's president and board chairman reached a new low this week, lawmakers who are FAMU alumni called Wednesday for Chairman Rufus Montgomery to resign his post --- but he quickly refused.
Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, Sen. Dwight Bullard of Miami, Rep. Mia Jones of Jacksonville, Rep. Alan Williams of Tallahassee and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum --- all Democrats and FAMU alumni --- called for Montgomery's resignation following months of conflict.
"It is apparent that it has reached a point where it's unreasonable, divisive, and detrimental to the university, to the students and to the graduates," Joyner said.
Montgomery responded with a statement saying he would stay on the job.
"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," he wrote. "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."
The exchange follows the latest clash Monday, when the hard-charging Montgomery accused FAMU President Elmira Mangum of insubordination for hanging up on him. Also Monday, she sent him a letter saying he'd violated her employee rights. She wrote that Montgomery had called her while she was busy, wanting to speak with her immediately, and ignored her requests for time to revamp her schedule.
"We want to move it out of the personal," said Gillum, who as a former FAMU student body president also served as a trustee. "The situation and the circumstances are so dire … that we stand here as caring alumni of Florida A&M University to request humbly that the chairman look past himself and look past the president and the personality conflicts between the two of them and step aside as the board chairman."
Earlier this month, trustees approved an annual evaluation of Mangum, who has been on the job for little more than a year. The evaluation found that she hadn't met expectations in four of 10 categories. The trustees then approved a plan for the president to provide them with comprehensive monthly progress reports between now and a November meeting, when they will again consider her performance.
"She's a very smart lady," said former state Sen. Al Lawson, who lost a bid to be FAMU president in January 2014, when Mangum was hired. "But sometimes things are just not meant to be."
Among other things, trustees have complained about Mangum's hiring decisions and poor communication with them. But they have also been accused of micromanaging FAMU's day-to-day operations. In June, Joyner, Bullard and Jones led lawmakers calling on the Board of Governors --- which oversees the state university system --- for an inquiry into whether the trustees were overstepping their authority.
"We're not asking for the board of trustees to rubber-stamp any issues or initiatives that the president has," Williams said Wednesday. "But we are asking for a united front, a team, and we don't have that.”
The elected officials said they'd been inundated with calls and emails as the situation escalated. They also said that only Gov. Rick Scott, who appointed Montgomery to the board, could intervene. But Joyner noted that the appointments of four trustees would be up at the end of 2015.
Meanwhile, the possibility of yet another short-term FAMU presidency drew mixed reactions from supporters of the university.
Bob Ruggles, the retired dean of FAMU's School of Journalism and Graphic Communications, said he was "very worried."
"I think if it gets to the point where the board fires her, it'll be a precipitous decision," he said. "They need to give her time to get things straightened out and let her work on the goals that they set, and let's see where it goes."
Leon County Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Lindley said she doesn't give Mangum "high points for her charm and communication skills."
"Largely, though, I think the trustees --- they have hired this woman, and then to immediately begin undermining her is outrageous, and very unprofessional," Lindley said. "And I don't know where in corporate or academic or political life you see that."