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Florida State Takes Hold of FAMU Engineering Purse Strings

070715_John_ThrasherFlorida A&M University (FAMU) recently lost its power of financial oversight over the shared FAMU-FSU (Florida State University) College of Engineering.

According to Rattler Nation, the nearly $13 million budget for the college was removed from FAMU’s general operating revenue in the state budget and moved to a sovereign line, the oversight of which is now under FSU’s authority. FAMU has controlled the joint college’s budget since 1987. Meeting minutes from a June 3 meeting of Florida State’s Board of Trustees confirms the switch.

Some theorized that the budget authority was being exchanged for the school’s deanship, which has been held by FSU’s Dr. Yaw Yeboah since 2012; however, upon his resignation July 31, he will be succeeded by FSU Associate Provost Bruce Locke. The tenure home of the deanship was to transfer to FAMU following Yaw’s resignation.

Current FSU President John Thrasher reportedly claimed FAMU agreed that FSU should take control of the FAMU-FSU COE budget, a change which went into effect July 1; however, a review of the published minutes of recent meetings of the FAMU Board of Trustees confirms that the board never met to approve any of the changes to the college’s operations.

Thrasher, as state senator last year, supported a split of the engineering school into two separate programs housed independently at the two colleges. Proponents of the plan asserted that sharing the college with FAMU was hurting FSU’s chances of becoming a world-class research institution. However, splitting the schools would likely be a violation of both Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act ― which protects against discrimination on the basis of race in higher ed and other institutions receiving federal funds ― and the Fordice ruling, which said states had not taken enough care to desegregate schools and ordered affirmative action toward this end.

Though it was reported at the time that Thrasher said he believed the split would be beneficial for both universities, the numbers suggest a different story.

In the years between 2004 and 2014, enrollment of FAMU students steadily decreased, except for one peak year over the 2010-11 school year. In the undergraduate program, enrollment of FAMU fell from 582 to 321 students over that timeframe, while the number of students enrolled at the graduate level halved, decreasing from 56 to 24. Conversely, enrollment of FSU students increased over the same frame, from 801 to 1109 undergraduates and 228 to 246 graduate students.

This seems to suggest that splitting the school would negatively impact FAMU — would it be able to operate a separate college of engineering given declining enrollment and already tightening budget constraints?

“The decline in the enrollment and persistence … of FAMU students should have motivated some strategic initiatives,” said a group of independent consultants in a November 2014 report.

In addition, the consultants recently found that splitting the schools, because of these two precedents, was cost prohibitive: “The cost to set up a new FSU engineering college that has the scope of a top 25 public engineering college is estimated at $500 million. The Fordice Decision seems to imply that the same $500 million would need to be invested in the FAMU engineering college. Hence, the overall cost to set up a two-college system may be prohibitive,” according to the November 2014 report.

The consultants also found that the school is underperforming because its organizational structure is weak. According to the November 2014 report, there is a “strain between the differing missions of the two parent universities, and a poor organizational structure based on the original Memoranda of Agreement. The structure seeks to save money, and to protect each parent university with little regard for the impact on student experience and faculty and staff productivity. The faculty, staff and students in the Joint College are of high caliber and committed to its unique mission, but are frustrated by the organizational barriers to success.”

Thanks to current barriers with the organizational structure, the consultants found that FSU faculty already see an unfair advantage — one FAMU leaders hoped would be corrected by a plan to exchange fiscal control for control of the deanship. “Faculty within [the] college, doing essentially the same work, [do not] have the same financial and promotion opportunities,” the consultants found, noting that “it is important that faculty and staff hiring, mentoring and promotion process be changed” to correct the inequity and that the new process “should be institutionalized and not allowed to vary with changes of administrations and financial conditions.”

Faculty have complained “about the difficulty of working in a situation in which the staff must learn the policies and procedures of two different institutions,” according to the report. “They also indicated frustration with extraordinary time delays in receiving responses from FAMU for services and/or the processing of documents. Additionally, low morale has been produced at the college by the fact that employees assigned to FSU have received salary increases when staff assigned to FAMU did not receive salary increases or did not receive equivalent increases.”

In February, the Florida Board of Governors unanimously approved a plan to keep the college united, but implement a 12-member joint council of university officials from FAMU and FSU, a new budget entity that will manage the fiscal oversight of the school and a multiyear plan to update facilities; and integrate academic and student affairs activities into one unified process.

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