Despite a recent flurry of negative publicity, FAMU President James Ammons is still standing tall. With spirited public outpourings of support, FAMU students, faculty, alumni, and trustees are rallying around the man who pulled the institution back from the brink of extinction.
The issue behind the critical headlines: an unauthorized North Carolina Central University satellite campus that was established at a Lithonia, Ga. megachurch while Ammons served as president of that institution.
When approached for a comment by St. Petersburg Times reporter Ron Matus, FAMU Board of Trustees Chairman Bill Jennings stated that he was “not overly concerned about what happened up there.”
Instead Jennings pointed to Ammons’ success in cleaning up the mess he inherited from former Interim President Castell Bryant, an individual whom the Times’ editorial board consistently praised. “I'm concerned about (Ammons') performance over the past 12 months at A&M,” Jennings continued. “And it's really been outstanding.”
The NCCU satellite campus opened in fall 2004 at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in suburban Atlanta and awarded bachelor’s degrees to 25 students. NCCU administrators shut down the program this year after discovering that it had not received approval from the university’s Board of Trustees, University of North Carolina system officials, or Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).
39 students were still enrolled at the time NCCU’s new leadership closed the campus.
SACS President Belle Wheelan is in discussions with NCCU about the possibility of retroactively legitimizing the 25 degrees that were conferred. The university has until September 19th to make its case.
In addition to mending fences with SACS, NCCU must also smooth edges with the U.S. Department of Education. Since unaccredited programs do not qualify for federal financial aid, NCCU has to repay all the federal loan money it provided to New Birth students. The total sum is not known at this time.
New Birth Pastor Eddie Long was a trustee at NCCU during Ammons’ tenure. In July, he was elected to FAMU’s Foundation board of directors.
Nonetheless, there are few signs that the NCCU-New Birth controversy has eroded the FAMU community’s confidence in Ammons. Two weeks ago, a capacity crowd greeted him with a standing ovation and roaring cheers at the President’s Convocation in Gaither Gymnasium. Thousands are expected to fill the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center for Ammons’ inauguration on October 31.
Hired in 2007, Ammons guided FAMU from probation to good standing with SACS and earned the first unqualified state audit in three years.