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Chris Timmons: Just who is FAMU’s biggest critic?

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

Talk about having a flighty state of emotions.

When I first read Florida Board of Governors’ (FLBOG) member Alan Levine’s op-ed published in the Tallahassee Democrat, I went from “Hmm” to “Ugh” to “Hell nah!”

Everyone likely believes that the battle for Middle Earth – err, FAMU (geek moment!) has been won.

Those who attempted the “presidential coup,” as some FAMU watchers call it, of FAMU President Elmira Mangum have resigned from FAMU’s Board of Trustees or their positions within that governing board: Rufus Montgomery is no longer chairman, but remains on the board; Spurgeon McWilliams, another Mangum critic, resigned his position.

All to the good, and especially with a significant infusion of new trustees on the horizon. Mangum, at least, as it relates to her direct bosses, will have a little room to be president of the university. But not so fast, says Levine.

Levine, a persistent FAMU critic as chairman of the Florida Board of Governors’ Audit and Compliance Committee, has said FAMU’s mission of taking students unprepared for a traditional college course load is driving FAMU’s graduation rates to a crisis point.

With the emphasis on getting students in and out of the state’s university system within four years, FAMU’s toll on the latest policy imperative of the state’s higher education bureaucracy and Gov. Rick Scott’s drive for “performance-based metrics” for the State University System is making the school a pariah in the state’s higher education circles.

But as FAMU’s supporters, and Mangum, have noted: FAMU’s mission statement is “excellence with caring.”

Its distinct mission is to treat every student as a “diamond in the rough.” Two-thirds of its students are “special admittance” – meaning, they do not meet the university’s standard admission criteria – and its students are largely first in their families to attend college.

(Also, as the sociologists say, they are “low income,” which in the U.S. class system means they can buy necessities, but beyond that, status-conscious goods (a pair of Jordans, an Xbox, a Sony flat screen, vacations) that are part of the modern consumer’s Jeffersonian pursuit of happiness, are acquired with greater challenge.
So that means, or translates to, 90 percent of FAMU’s students on the federal financial aid dole. Levine, looking at FAMU from a statistical vantage point, believes it competes with the state’s community colleges.

That, he believes, is putting FAMU in a bad position. Levine has maintained that FAMU has to be more selective in its admission efforts and compete to acquire a more academically elite student population.

Of course, he says all this to a university that has competed with Harvard over the years – winning, by the way – for black National Merit Scholars.

Now, back to the Levine op-ed: In it, Levine presumes to speak as a single-man committee of the whole for his colleagues on the FLBOG.

He makes veiled threats:

In the next few months, the majority of FAMU’s Board will be up for reappointment or replacement. No matter who is selected, the Board of Governors will still hold FAMU’s Board of Trustees and president accountable for the results we are seeking for the students. The president and the board must work together to recognize this, act on it, and perform.

Or the Board of Governors may have to.

He takes sides in the recent battle between FAMU’s trustees and Mangum, while decrying those who did, too (“Much has been written and said in recent months about the future of FAMU … People have taken sides”):

But the president must recognize that the progress of FAMU’s recovery falls squarely on the shoulders of its Board of Trustees. Given the multitude of issues facing FAMU over the past year, one should expect the chair to be especially proactive in tracking the university’s progress. Oversight is, after all, the board’s role, and the board is ultimately responsible for the university meeting its goals.

The question, is this appropriate for a member of the Florida Board of Governors’ to be doing?

Another question: Was Rufus Montgomery just a lapdog for the FLBOG? That explains why SUS chancellor Marshall Criser has been especially tight-lipped, yet apparently critical. Hmm.

Everyone thought getting rid of Montgomery and other critics was the answer. It was, in part.

It appears that FAMU’s biggest critic, and its most formidable critic, is the FLBOG.

Ugh.

Or, Alan Levine, the new Godfather of higher education in Florida, saying, “I’m making you an offer you can’t refuse.”

Hell nah!

Chris Timmons is a native Floridian, bird-watcher, editorial columnist, and fellow with the James Madison Institute. 

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