In an op-ed posted on the Tallahassee Democrat website yesterday, state Sen. Bobby Powell called himself “an advocate” for Florida A&M University. Part of his statement compared his feelings about FAMU, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, to FSU, where he earned his master’s degree.
“With the increasingly negative news that continues to come out of Famu, it is becoming more and more difficult to be an advocate,” Powell wrote. “On the bright side, I also received a degree from Florida State University.”
Powell’s view of his FSU degree as being the “bright side” over his affiliation with FAMU could help explain a lot. That might be a reason why he hasn’t publicly voiced concern that FSU alumni hold most of the appointed seats on their alma mater’s Board of Trustees (BOT) while there are only two alumni in appointed seats on the FAMU BOT.
Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Board of Governors (BOG) decided to reduce FAMU alumni to a minority on FAMU BOT back in 2015. FAMU “advocate” Powell doesn’t seem to have a problem with this.
Powell also questioned whether politics played a role in the exit of former School of Journalism and Graphic Communication Dean Ann Wead Kimbrough even though he didn’t publicly question whether politics played a role in the exit of former FAMU-FSU College of Engineering Dean Yaw Yeboah.
“I would like for someone inside FAMU’s administration to reassure me that the plan to remove Kimbrough was not a political move,” Powell wrote.
Yeboah, a native of Ghana, became the first black dean of the COE on July 1, 2012. He then abruptly announced his resignation less than three years later amid a shakeup that helped FSU President John Thrasher take hold of the direction of the school.
That shakeup followed a harmful legislative change that Powell didn’t battle while he was in the Florida House of Representatives. FAMU controlled millions for the COE from 1987 to 2015. But in 2015, the Florida Legislature shifted the $12.9M COE appropriation from the FAMU general revenue line to a new budget entity. Then-FAMU President Elmira Mangum joined Thrasher in stating that a new Joint College of Engineering Governance Council would call the shots on the COE operating budget. That made it possible for the FSU representatives and BOG Chancellor Marshall Criser, III to out-vote FAMU on budget decisions.
Powell showed no signs of caring about the calls by former FAMU President Frederick S. Humphries, the chair and vice-chair of the FAMU Board of Trustees, and the leadership of the FAMU National Alumni Association for that budget control to be given back to FAMU.
Yeboah, who had previously served as an associate dean at Clark Atlanta University, emphasized the diversity component of the COE mission during his short time as the dean. He spoke on a regular basis about the need to increase diversity at the college and in professional engineering jobs. Yeboah was also advocating for more funds to help bring the average salaries of FAMU engineering professors up to that of FSU engineering professors.
The work for additional funding for FAMU engineering professor salaries has continued since Yeboah left. But the new top focus of the COE appears to be Thrasher’s goal of helping FSU become one of the top 25 public universities.
Less than three years after Yeboah started, a June 2015 press release said that he, as a professor with tenure at FSU, would step down on July 31. Mangum agreed to jointly appoint an FSU associate dean as Yeboah’s interim replacement. She then agreed to jointly appoint former FSU presidential candidate J. Murray Gibson as the permanent dean on a FAMU tenure line.
At a July 21, 2015 FAMU BOT committee meeting, Mangum said “our daily involvement in the College of Engineering will emanate from the leadership position of Dean of the College of Engineering.” But if Gibson is still working toward the goal of becoming the president of FSU, there’s little chance that he will take any risks to help FAMU that might hurt his relationship with the FSU BOT.
Yeboah’s exit from the deanship appears to have nothing to do with how well he did his job and everything to do with the political dealings helped Thrasher get what he wants at the COE. But Powell has been silent about this.
In his op-ed, Powell added that: “I have searched for damaging information related to Kimbrough, and unlike the other deans who were dismissed, there is none.”
Back in May, Founding FAMU J-School Dean Robert “Bob” Ruggles used his Facebook page to offer his thoughts on possible reasons for Kimbrough’s dismissal. He cited the questionable credentials of too many of the school's adjuncts, potential issues related to re-accreditation of the school, and low faculty morale.
The op-ed by Powell also claimed (without any supporting evidence) that the new interim J-School dean “was quickly provided funding to fill six positions that Kimbrough was not allowed to fill.”
The fact that FAMU had multi-million dollar budget cuts each year under the Mangum administration due to declining enrollment seems to be lost on Powell. FAMU has a bigger hiring budget for 2017-2018 because it's projecting its first overall enrollment increase in years.
A FAMU advocate is someone who is a reliable fighter for the school’s interests. That doesn’t describe Powell. Powell is an individual who sometimes supports his alma mater when it’s politically convenient and, at other times, ignores attacks on FAMU.