Florida A & M University on Thursday picked the chancellor of North Carolina Central University, Dr. James H. Ammons, to become FAMU’s new president.
Ammons, 54, appeared before FAMU’s board of trustees in Tallahassee, Fla., Thursday morning and didn’t learn of his selection until returning to North Carolina that afternoon. The decision to make Ammons FAMU’s tenth president reunites him with the school where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1974, and later served as a professor, as well as provost and vice president for academic affairs.
“I don’t think there is a greater honor than to have the people who know you the best to select you as the leader of your alma mater,” Ammons says. “It is the greatest feeling!”
FAMU’s last full-time president, Dr. Fred Gainous, served from 2002 to 2004. He resigned after clashing with a board of trustees displeased over the university’s financial and administrative status. Gainous was succeeded on an interim basis by Dr. Castell Vaughn Bryant, the first woman to lead the 120-year-old, historically Black FAMU.
According to Ammons, his main priorities upon assuming FAMU’s top post will be to build enrollment, reconnect with the university’s corporate sponsors and infuse fiscal integrity and accountability.
Before any of that can be attempted, the details of Ammons’ FAMU employment contract have to be negotiated, and the board’s decision has to be ratified on Mar. 8. Plus Ammons has unfinished business in North Carolina.
“I would like to be as respectful as I can with North Carolina Central University to give them the time that they need to move forward with identifying my successor,” Ammons says. “And I want to graduate this class that’s coming out in the spring.”
After his work in North Carolina is finished, the Winter Haven, Fla., native anticipates being back in his home state for the long haul. “I believe that some of the work that we would do (at FAMU) would take up most of a decade,” Ammons says. “I would like to do things and then have an opportunity to make certain those things are implemented and that they take hold.”
The decision to go with Ammons culminated a FAMU search that began in July and amassed 42 potential candidates before that group was culled to three finalists. Along with. Ammons, the other finalists were Dr. Thelma Thompson, president of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and Dr. Howard Johnson, provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of North Texas.
Ammons received seven votes from the board of trustees, Thompson six, Johnson none.
As FAMU’s board decided who should lead the 13,000-student university, it was advised by Dr. Walter Smith, president from 1977 to 1985. Smith was delighted by the selection of Ammons, who worked under Smith for a time.
“He not only graduated from this institution, he was involved in many of the changes that took place in the early 80s right on into the 90s,” Smith says. “He has a good sense of some of the things that should be facilitated, as we strengthen ourselves in our recruitment program and in faculty.”
After graduating from FAMU cum laude in 1974, Ammons earned a master’s degree in public administration and a Ph.D. in government from Florida State University.
–Blair S. Walker
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