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FAMU President Undaunted By Trustees Clash

Elmira Mangum, president of Florida A & M University
Florida A&M University
Elmira Mangum, president of Florida A & M University

Florida A&M University President Elmira Mangum said Monday she's undaunted by the failed efforts of members of the university's Board of Trustees to fire her less than two weeks ago, and that she's still focused on "transformational change" at the school.

"I was shocked, surprised, disappointed -- all of that -- but not deterred," she said. "If anything, it made me more committed."

Mangum barely survived two votes for her ouster at an emergency board meeting Oct. 22. Students then marched to Gov. Rick Scott's office to support her. The next day, the board chairman seen as Mangum's chief opponent, Rufus Montgomery, resigned as chair while remaining on the board. Last week, Trustee Spurgeon McWilliams, another reliable anti-Mangum vote, stepped down from the board completely.

Meanwhile, the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system, has been taking an increasingly dim view of the turmoil.

"We have been witness to failed leadership, no matter who's at fault," wrote board member Alan Levine in a column that appeared this weekend in the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper. "While I don't speak for my colleagues on the Board of Governors, it's no stretch to suggest patience is thin. … Everyone should be embarrassed by this."

Levine also suggested that if Mangum and the trustees can't improve the university's operations and student outcomes, the Board of Governors will have to intervene.

"In the next few months, the majority of FAMU's board will be up for reappointment or replacement," he wrote. "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 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."

Yet Mangum was philosophical, even upbeat, in a free-wheeling conversation Monday with reporters, the first such media availability of her 19-month presidency.

"I believe that moving an institution through transformation and through change will create some level of disruption," she said. "In fact, all of the literature and all of the research suggests that it will and it should."

Mangum was, in fact, hired as a "change agent" at the state's only public historically black university. She is FAMU's sixth president since 2001.

Trustees were especially concerned because the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools had placed FAMU on probation in December 2012, following drum major Robert Champion's highly publicized hazing death and a series of questionable audits. Mangum, who was Cornell University's vice president for budget and planning when she was recruited for the FAMU post, had skills the university needed.

But as FAMU's first permanent woman president and the first president of the modern era who didn't attend the university, her relations with the board began to unravel before she started, with an effort to cut her new salary even as she wrapped up her work at Cornell.

Additionally, a major bone of contention between Mangum and the board has been renovations of the FAMU president's residence. Mangum is the first chief executive to live in the mansion, which was last occupied by President Frederick Humphries from 1985 to 2001.

Although the move to fire her focused in part on payments for the renovations, which trustees said they hadn't approved, Mangum has maintained that she didn't approve them, either.

"I did not sign off on anything," she said Monday, noting that when she visited the campus in February 2014, to have her appointment confirmed, she was asked her opinion about issues such as paint, carpeting and light fixtures.

As to an $11,000 set of French doors in the renovated residence, Mangum said she hadn't chosen it, "but I enjoy that door. It's a nice door."

She said she hadn't known the move to fire her was coming at the emergency meeting last month.

Mangum expressed the most concern over the fact that FAMU Faculty Senate President Bettye Grable supported both motions to fire her, one with cause and one without.

"Trustee Grable represents the faculty, and we will always engage with our faculty and try and meet their needs," Mangum said. "To improve that relationship is extremely important to me."

She acknowledged she'd have to grow into the social and political demands of her job.

"I am a naturally introverted, shy, person," Mangum said. "I have to grow into this big persona that people want to see and they want to have access to. … I am most comfortable, honestly, when I'm with the students because they seem to be less 'judge-y.' "

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