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FAMU Vows To Fix Finances

Florida A&M University’s president stressed last week that fixing errors found in a preliminary audit by the Florida Auditor General’s office will be a “phased” process, but one the school can handle.

The school was threatened with a criminal investigation by state legislators in early March after the audit revealed 35 findings that the university must address. Among those was nearly $2 million in unaccounted for athletic ticket sales revenue, about $18,000 in undocumented purchase orders and students receiving incorrect tuition refunds.

In recent months, professors and university-employed students have not been paid for months at a time, prompting many — including the graduate assistants and the university’s newspaper staff — to go on strike. Some of those affected have since been paid.

“We know that all things regarding this audit have not been resolved; we are not yet whole,” says interim president Castell Vaughn Bryant. “We have known from the beginning that becoming whole would be a phased process. We are on the road to greater fiscal accountability and responsibility.”

According to Grace Ali, FAMU’s chief financial officer and vice president for fiscal affairs, several of the findings have already been fixed. Others are in line to be fixed in the next two months and several will require more time to be resolved.

“University leadership feels confident that we are on the right track,” Ali says. “We are also making continuous improvements.”

A spokesman for the Florida Board of Governors says the board was pleased to hear the news.

“That was of course good to hear,” says spokesman Bill Edmonds. “It was what we expected to hear. Preliminary audits are just that. They’re not complete until the agency being audited responds. [FAMU officials] were able to settle a couple of those questions.”

The board established the task force on FAMU Financial and Operational Control Issues, which is charged with helping the university update some of its practices. The task force, which includes members of the board and a former state Supreme Court Justice, will meet regularly and have discussions with the Auditor General’s office, auditing committees from the Legislature and the school’s trustee board. Edmonds says the task force’s work is like preventative maintenance to ensure that the university never sees another audit.

“You can clear these [issues] up in the short term, but we want to clear them up in the long term as well,” he says. “The Board of Governors, through the task force, continues to provide assistance to FAMU toward modernization of the operational control. It’s unfair to leave FAMU on its own,” he says, especially when help is available to improve the situation in a more rapid fashion. The help of the task force will enable FAMU to “get back to what FAMU is known for doing — educating students.”

–Marlon A. Walker


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