Alabama A&M President Andrew Hugine recently wrapped up his first year at the helm, receiving positive evaluations from constituent groups that included trustees, students, faculty and staff and alumni. Hugine spoke with Diverse about his first-year experience as president and the future of the university.
Q: What changes did you make in your first year?
A: A restructuring of university and academic affairs areas has been proposed and accepted by the board. The process will combine schools and create colleges. This effort aims to make more efficient and effective use of our resources.
Q: What are the challenges facing AAMU, specifically, and HBCUs, in general?
A: Alabama A&M University and its sister HBCUs are facing numerous challenges. Foremost is the constant demand for more fiscal resources during a point in history when the nation is confronted with far-reaching economic challenges. In the case of public Black universities, in particular, it is usually fair to assert that many have rarely received equitable funding from their respective states. Inadequate resources at the very inception of these institutions mean even graver challenges in tough economic times. The same imperatives for quality education persist … the same demands for superior faculty, buildings and equipment. But, faced with hard times, the long-put-off problems, like deferred maintenance and salary benchmarks, for instance, become more forbidding. Overall, the biggest challenge has always been that of constantly inspiring phenomenal runners (i.e., students, faculty and staff) to continue in the race of higher education despite a series of obstacles and setbacks not of their own making.
Q: Of those changes, which ones are the most pressing?
A: The fiscal challenges, I believe, are the most pervasive. They not only impact our institutions’ abilities to hold their own competitively speaking, but they often threaten to eat away any claim toward stabilization in academics and day-to-day operations.
Q: AAMU has a strong physics program but what are you doing to get AAMU to the top in that field?
A: Our physics faculty are not only securing the resources needed to equip state-of-the-art laboratories, but they are also working diligently to boost awareness among middle and high school students of the opportunities and excitement in STEM areas. Physics administrators are priming the pipeline to ensure that minorities have more opportunities to earn doctoral degrees and become role models for others. Uniquely, AAMU’s Department of Physics hosts an annual public lecture series that features a Nobel Laureate. On Oct. 1, Nobel Laureate John Mather will present the series’ 13th lecture. Moreover, we have a slate of partnerships with NASA that provides immediate research opportunities for our students and faculty.
Q: What are your new targets of opportunity?
A: The City of Huntsville, owing mainly to its 30,000-person Redstone Arsenal facility, will be a dominant force and destination for military units downsized due to Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). There are opportunities for AAMU to be an educational resource in this endeavor. There are also opportunities for program growth through innovative collaborations among our existing academic programs.