Follow me on Twitter @WilliamGMcCray and Instagram @SirWilliamGMcCrayIII to keep up on the latest! We have taken care in this space to spread the responsibility for the relentless discord plaguing Florida A&M University.
But Thursday morning’s Board of Trustees meeting makes it difficult to maintain that position.
Chairman Rufus Montgomery presided over one of the most embarrassing, dysfunctional, damaging, unfair and counterproductive public meetings in our collective memories.
A few things are now clear:
•The relationship between President Elmira Mangum and the Board of Trustees has been irreparably damaged.
•President Mangum is emitting strong signals that she will not resign, but will force the board to either dramatically alter its approach to governance or terminate her so that she fully preserves her right to sue the university.
•This has become a dreadful power play, in which the interests of the university have taken a back seat to winning and losing.
•Ultimately it will be “Rattler Nation” – students, faculty, staff, alumni and other leaders – who will speak in a loud and clear voice demanding change.
Thursday’s farcical meeting was wrong in just about every way something can be wrong.
Why such a rush? The motion to terminate clearly caught some board members off guard. And the meeting itself apparently violated open meeting laws. Further, why would one even make that motion if not sure they had the votes?
Where were the voices of all FAMU constituents – students, faculty, alumni and such? On a matter of such gravity, shouldn’t they be heard? (Actually, they were partially heard – on social media – with well-reasoned and full-throated expressions of horror and disgust over what was happening at the meeting).
Why was it so hard to get the undivided attention of trustees? At one point, the trustee who made the initial motion to fire Mangum – Vice Chairman Kelvin Lawson – left the call while his motion was being discussed! Other board members were on and off the call. We understand this is a volunteer board, but surely the very future of the university’s presidency should have commanded undivided attention. If Lawson knew he had a meeting conflict then somebody else should have made the motion or the meeting should have been held with more advance notice.
Here is something uncomfortable that needs to be said: In the background, there has been talk of a latent – or even prevailing – sexism directed at the president from certain members of the board of trustees. If Thursday’s board meeting is any indication, those concerns may be valid. We found Chairman Montgomery’s tone toward President Mangum, and at least one female board member, to be horribly patronizing. If this is indicative of the chairman’s relationship with the president, it is a real cause of concern. Regardless, we heard “defamation” and “hostile work environment” tossed around at Thursday’s meeting. Our guess is that somewhere there is an attorney already drafting the wrongful termination or harassment suit.
Having said all of that, the issues that precipitated the meeting are worrisome – and complicated. Renovation work on the president’s house began before Mangum took office. As those renovations moved toward completion, almost $400,000 of improvements were made without, apparently, the proper authorization from the board. This matter needs to be fully investigated by an independent authority. Is it a reflection of poor management by Mangum, or of loose to non-existent financial controls that she inherited? Of course, if trustees hostile to the president are trying to make the case she directed improvements for personal gain, that case is undercut by the reality that Mangum is only a tenant in that facility – it is owned by the university.
Further, we didn’t hear any assertion that the improvements to the facility were inappropriate or exorbitant. The president asserts that she did nothing wrong. She deserves a fair and thorough hearing before being fired for or without cause.
But even if that hearing occurs, we come back to bullet point number one – the relationship is broken.
Actually, to be more accurate, the system of operations is broken. The board of trustees and the president must be a cohesive unit for the university to prosper. That can no longer happen under current leadership. The 7-5 and 6-6 votes against firing Mangum highlight the depth of the BOT’s division.
If Mangum is no longer fit to serve as president, then surely Montgomery is no longer fit to lead the trustees. Clearly FAMU needs to either find a board that will work with this president, or find a president that will work with this board.
Or more likely – both.
FAMU is now faced with untold days and weeks of inter-operational gridlock. And then, assuming the president’s seemingly inevitable departure (and corresponding lawsuit) occurs, months and years of rebuilding and jockeying.
Good luck, by the way, to the board that tries to find a qualified candidate to clean up this mess – especially a female.
Meanwhile, we share the pain of current FAMU students and proud alumni, who must see their great institution tarnished by the kind of disastrous leadership that only can spring from those concerned more with power and “winning” instead of the greater good of the university.
Our prayer: That Rattler Nation rises up and demands new leadership and a new day at Florida A&M.
Based on what we saw and heard Thursday morning, that’s the only way.