Continuing the Work at Hand
Despite a likely termination at the year’s end, FAMU president Fred Gainous works to keep the university running
By Marlon A. Walker
It’s been business as usual for Dr. Fred Gainous, president of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Fla. He’s kept meetings with various school departments, maintained his daily regimen of walks on campus and continues his plans with what he calls the 117-year-old Black university’s “reengineering process.”
He’s done it all with a large dark cloud looming overhead. His effort to get his alma mater in ranking with the best colleges in the nation may end on Jan. 1, 2005, pending a vote by the school’s governing board to allow him to stay on board as its leader.
Gainous, 57, is visibly worn. The Tallahassee native depended on support from local family members and steadfast supporters in the community to get through the first days following an 8-4 vote last month by FAMU’s board of trustees to oust him as leader, pending a unanimous vote at its December meeting to let him keep the job he’s had for more than two years.
“I have mixed feelings emotionally… from the standpoint that there are some things we can accomplish at the university if given the time, support and resources that are necessary,” he said, slouching slightly in a green chair in his office on the top floor of Lee Hall, one of the school’s administrative buildings.
Right now, Gainous is about the work at hand. He’s continuing work on securing grants to keep the school’s research funded, along with several endowed chairs and construction that is helping to make the school’s look become more up-to-date.
It’s the work he’s doing, along with several things that need to be addressed, that the board will be looking for in December, when his fate with the university will be sealed.
“I don’t fully blame the university president… but he does share part of the blame,” said Virgil Miller, the school’s student body president and a member of the board of trustees.
Miller cast his vote to terminate the president’s contract after adding an amendment making the transition easier for the school, should a transition be deemed necessary. The initial motion, which called for the president’s immediate removal, was done in haste and would not have positively affected the school, Miller said.
Two years ago, Gainous told students in his first school-wide address that he intended to make great strides toward improving school morale, making the school more attractive and student-friendly. And two years later, several students say they are still waiting for the changes to happen.
Robert E. Brewer II, a senior from Saginaw, Mich., said he was worried when the president came in immediately promising the one thing students were wanting to hear — that they were going to get their financial aid refunds on time.
“He was coached (on what to tell students),” he said. “All FAMU students are looking for is a sense of security. But from the time he was elected, that sense of security was threatened.”
Brewer has experienced first hand several of the glitches involved with the new systems Gainous’ administration implemented. In October, he’s still waiting for his financial aid refund — more than a month after students normally receive their kickbacks. He attributes it to a new accounting system that workers still have not learned well enough to effectively operate. He paid an outstanding debt he owed to the school through a new online payment system, but the money never showed up on the other end. He was forced to do what he thought he’d avoided: standing in lines where students would wait several hours only to hear that nothing could be done at that time.
“I had to come back, stand in line and say, ‘Hey, I paid this,'” he said. “It created more work for me.”
While he says he understands that a change needed to be made to the administration, he doesn’t agree with the board’s tactics. Long time in-house squabbling between Gainous and board of trustees Chairman Jim Corbin has provided rumors for nearly the duration of Gainous’ tenure that Corbin never wanted him as president. Brewer said the focus should not be placed solely on Gainous and that others have contributed to the school’s present situation.
“Gainous is one man, and one man doesn’t run FAMU,” he said. “This is [about] power hungry adults acting immaturely and prematurely on such a decision (with so much impact).”
The well-known feud between Gainous and Corbin gives little hope of a unanimous vote of approval for the president at December’s meeting. After Jan. 1, he would be offered a position in the College of Engineering Sciences Technology and Agriculture as a tenured professor. For now, Gainous is working on what he has to in order to keep the university running. But the burden is much harder to bear with obvious dissent and lack of support from the school’s alumni and governing board. But he knows it’s work to which he must attend.
“I think the upside is I believe if given the opportunity that FAMU will be up to the challenge,” he said. “The only thing I think that can beat Florida A&M University is Florida A&M University.”
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com