Florida A&M University officials say the controversial firing of eight instructors from the School of Business and Industry was done as part of a restructuring of the internationally renowned program in order to gain separate accreditation.
Some faculty members say the dismissals in late May were wrong and lacked the appropriate protocol.
The firings were rescinded at a FAMU board of trustees meeting in late June, but some speculate it is only a matter of time before the staffers disappear again.
“While we don’t object with the university wanting to get accreditation, [for SBI] to take this Draconian move … wasn’t necessary,” says Dr. Bill Tucker, a physics professor and president of the FAMU chapter of the United Faculty of Florida.
The firing and rehiring of the instructors is just the latest flap to garner FAMU unwanted headlines in the local press. A recent state audit said the school was unable to adequately account for how it handles its $398 million budget. An internal auditor was placed on leave when he launched an investigation of administration officials. The board on Friday authorized an investigation into whether top administrators have been misrepresenting the university’s financial standing.
The board has delayed the hiring of a permanent president until next year, despite the fact that an interim president, Dr. Castell Bryant, has been in place 18 months. The head of the national alumni association has called for the timely hiring of a permanent president and the resignation of board of trustees chairwoman Challis Lowe, saying concerns about leadership are harming the school’s image.
The business school employees are an integral part of SBI’s acclaimed Professional Development program. The program stood out as a unique tool when founded by former Dean Sybil Mobley to give her students more hands-on experience and make them more marketable throughout the industry.
Interim Dean Patrick Liverpool says the school, which was started in 1974, now needs to diverge from the school’s original mission. The firings, he says, are the first steps toward restructuring the program to get the school in line with what accrediting council seeks.
“When professional development was initiated by Dean Mobley, that was unique,” says Liverpool, who has run the school since the beginning of the year. “But everyone else is now doing professional development, so the competitive edge we had … is no longer a major drawing card. We have to find a different marketing niche.”
That niche, he says, will be strengthening students’ knowledge in their respective fields. He says the money saved from the combined salaries of the employees would go toward hiring professors to teach marketing, finance and accounting.
“We decided we needed to run the business school like a business; to reallocate funds where it was much more needed; to attempt to make a strategic business decision – especially when we’re dealing with non-tenured individuals who were not adding value to our enterprise,” Liverpool says.
But, Tucker contends, the way the university’s administration is going about making the changes is unacceptable. He says the firings — the instructors were given five days notice to clean out their offices — violated the university’s collective bargaining agreement, which is why trustees rescinded the dismissals.
“The move was so sharp in not giving notice that was needed,” Tucker says. “Now, they’re regrouping to see whether they can have it both ways.”
As of now, all eight instructors are on the school’s payroll, although they are not currently working. Neither Tucker nor Liverpool knows how long that will last.
The accreditation would mean SBI’s program would have to be restructured around the mission statement of AACSB: International, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the accrediting counsel for business schools.
Currently, SBI students enrolled in the five-year Master’s of Business Administration program are required to complete, among other things, three internships to give them practical business experience. Employers have been attracted to the school’s students because of their hands-on experience.
Historically, the school’s approach to training future business leaders has been praised by those in the business world as well as the school’s students and faculty. In 2001, SBI ranked third in the nation in awarding bachelor’s degrees in business to Black students. The school ranked 11th in the nation for awarding MBAs to Black students. FAMU has repeatedly been noted in publications such as The New York Times, Fortune magazine and Newsweek magazine as a school to watch. They also have traditionally placed high regionally and nationally in an annual case study competition held by Deloitte and Touche.
While it’s of concern to many because it means losing the unique curriculum the school was founded on, Liverpool says it’s time the changes were made.
“It’s tough for anyone coming in here after Dean Mobley making changes,” he says. “Any change is somewhat sacrilegious. But changes need to be made.”
— By Marlon A. Walker
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