If Elmira Mangum’s contract does end in April without an extension or new agreement, then Florida A&M University’s 11th and first female president will stay on as a tenured member of faculty commanding more $382,000 annually. That is how much it will cost university officials to get rid of a president whom most outsiders agree delivers on metrics of success for institutional growth, but trustees say fails in communication, trust building and transparency.
She’ll go down in the minds of most at the leader who oversaw a 1,700 student drop in enrollment over the course of her three years as president, but who helped the university qualify for new money under state performance-based funding metrics.
She will be commemorated as the leader who either forfeited the fiscal leverage of FAMU’s College of Engineering over to partnering Florida State University, or the one who saved it from being wiped out by state legislature altogether.
And much like the board declining to extend her contract during its contentious meeting with the Rattler in Chief yesterday afternoon, only to leave the door open for negotiation, her tenure will be viewed as a complex puzzle of business acumen, personnel missteps and political chess that ultimately, will leave Florida’s historically black flagship at the mercy of adversarial stakeholders on the state’s Board of Governors.
A puzzle that never quite fit in, or with, FAMU’s culture and expectations.
But what lies ahead for FAMU? Certainly, a presidential search process that will now produce more involvement, and possibly interference, from the BOG thanks to new rules on executive searches passed this summer.
In the short term, it will fuel conspiracy theories about former president James Ammons returning to his old seat, after turning down an accepted opportunity to serve as provost at Delaware State University.
In the long-term, it will generate questions about how exactly a new administration will be expected to perform. Certainly, enrollment needs to increase. But research grants and contracts, graduation rates, alumni giving and legislative engagement were all up. Will a new president be expected to exceed these gains, or to maintain them?
And if the new president shows signs of early failure, will that individual get a longer time to fix issues than Mangum, who will leave with the public assumption that her separation was a result of, primarily, being disliked by the board?
Politically, the dawn of separation seems to be an easy decision. But financially, in addition to paying more than $600,000 annually to FAMU’s two most recent presidents, the cost for a new search, the costs for hiring a new executive team and severance for the old unit, along with the public relations beating the school continues to take, the move is more difficult than meets the eye.
Beyond Florida, what qualified person will want the job? Who will desire to work with a board widely viewed as petty and prone to micro-manage, in a state with extensive Sunshine laws about public information and for a legislature which would rather see FAMU fold than thrive?
Life after Mangum is a question of making life at FAMU fit into a new set of rules about governance, allegiance and expectations. It’s necessary and rewarding for so many people, but with an antagonistic state system and bad board culture, will there be a qualified candidate willing to figure the puzzle out?