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FAMU Instructors Say They’re Not Getting Paid

Due to financial and administrative problems at Florida A&M University, adjunct professors and graduate teaching assistants haven’t been compensated in 2007, according to school sources. Diverse has confirmed that journalism teaching assistants have not been paid, but an estimated 600 employees falling under the former two job categories may also be affected at the 13,000-student school.  

The failure to pay these part-time employees is just one manifestation of chronic financial and accounting woes that have dogged FAMU for years, and which played a role in the ouster of former president Fred Gainous in 2004.

Elizabeth Kelley, 21, a graduate assistant at the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication, said she’s supposed to receive payments totaling $3,500 for the 2007 spring semester. Hoping to earn a master’s degree in journalism in 2008, Kelley said on Tuesday she still hadn’t received any money from FAMU.

“We keep getting the runaround,” she said. “Nobody seems to be able to give us a straight answer. My credit card bill keeps getting larger and larger, and I have medical bills piling up and rent due.” She added that she’s now looking for employment outside of FAMU.

“I just feel that this is so unorganized — how can you not pay your adjuncts, your teaching assistants?” she asked. “How can you just say? ‘Oh, we can’t find the money!’” 

Journalism professor Michael Abrams says three of five School of Journalism graduate assistants have threatened to quit by week’s end if they don’t receive compensation.

Schoolwide, “the rumor was there were 600 people not being paid,” Abrams says. “With all the brilliant people we have in the business and industrial engineering schools, we ought to be able to use their expertise to modernize this [financial] system we have. There has to be a way.”

Repeated phones calls to FAMU officials, including dean of graduate studies Chanta Haywood, were not returned. However, Haywood spoke to the school newspaper about the university’s inability to pay adjuncts and graduate assistants. “This has happened before, but I don’t know if it’s been this widespread,” Haywood said.

On Feb. 6, interim president Castell Vaughn Bryant circulated a letter about the pay situation. It said no funds had been identified for adjuncts or ‘OPS,’ a class of interim workers known as Other Personnel Services. Graduate assistants fall under the OPS category.

“It is with regrets that departments are hiring additional personnel without first assuring they have the available funds for the positions,” Bryant wrote. “This is not new. It is an ‘age old, ongoing problem.’”

Several journalism graduate students, including Ghislaine Lewis, decided to publicize their predicament in the press. 

“We haven’t been paid since Dec. 22,” said the 24-year-old journalism graduate assistant Monday night. “Everybody’s just passing the blame off on somebody else. I really need the money.”

By Tuesday, she had received an emergency check for $700, something Lewis says wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t publicized her plight. However, the other four journalism graduate assistants had not been paid, and Lewis says she was contemplating quitting the 20-hour-a-week job.

“I can’t leave my classmates hanging,” she says.

–Blair S. Walker

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