Monday, June 06, 2016

2015: Request for NAA “letters of support for Dr. Mangum” raises concerns

Back during the June 2015 meetings of the FAMU Board of Trustees, then-Chairman Rufus Montgomery gave the Special Committee on Governance a compilation of documents on issues that he thought needed to be discussed as part of the annual evaluation process for President Elmira Mangum.

One of those documents was a copy of a June 2 email that Vice-Chairman Kelvin Lawson sent to Rufus, then-General Counsel Avery McKnight, and BOT Liaison Linda Barge-Miles. The email was entitled: “Fwd: President Mangum Letters of Support – Request” and contained two forwarded emails that were sent from FAMU Alumni Affairs staffers to officers of the FAMU National Alumni Association (NAA).

The first forwarded email was dated May 27 and was from Brandon Hill, who then served as the FAMU coordinator of membership services and alumni reunions. It was addressed to “NAA Leadership” and said that “Alumni Affairs Assistant Vice President, Dr. John Lee has asked that we reach out to all of our NAA Chapter Presidents to solicit letters of support for Dr. Elmira Mangum and the outstanding work that she is doing at FAMU. We are told these letters will be used in the President’s annual review. Dr. Lee kindly asks that all letters be submitted via email by Friday, May 29, 2015 to our office.”

The second forwarded email didn’t have a clear date but was a follow-up message from Lee to the NAA Executive Board and chapter presidents. Lee said that he wanted to “clarify the email that was sent out earlier on my behalf.” He went on to say that: “I am requesting one letter of support for Dr. Mangum from Tommy Mitchell, President FAMU NAA, on behalf of the entire FAMU National Alumni Association. Separately, I am requesting letters of support for Dr. Mangum from each FAMU NAA Chapter President on behalf of their chapters...We are simply seeking letters of support from the NAA as Dr. Mangum moves toward her first Presidential evaluation by the FAMU Board of Trustees and the Florida Board of Governors. Please not that this is a request and is not mandatory in any way.”

Lawson asked Barge-Miles to share the two forwarded emails with Rick Givens, the FAMU vice president of audit & compliance.

“My question is – is it appropriate for someone in a leadership capacity at the University to solicit support for the President as we are about to enter into the evaluation process,” Lawson wrote. “Given this persons position, it would appear they could have un intended influence on the tone and feedback received in these letters.”

The compilation of documents that the BOT chairman gave to the Special Committee on Governance in June 2015 didn’t state what answer Givens gave to Lawson. But Rufus did reference the NAA in his individual evaluation of Mangum in July 2015.

“It’s my understanding that members of the FAMUNAA did not respond favorably to requests to provide recommendation letters for this evaluation,” the BOT chairman wrote. “While Dr. Mangum has forged relationships with prominent alumni by extension of her office, she would be well served by an effort to court broader groups of alumni who want to contribute in various ways. We all want our president to succeed.”

The rift between Mangum and the NAA leadership continued to grow after that. Back during July 2015, Mitchell expressed the concerns that many alumni had about Mangum’s support of a decision to shift the $12,996,539 in operating dollars for the College of Engineering (COE) from FAMU to Florida State University. The NAA later declined an invitation to join a group of state lawmakers who held a press conference to request the resignation of Rufus, who was a big critic of Mangum.

The Mangum administration went on to start making dramatic changes to Alumni Affairs that Mitchell said were harmful to the NAA. The university laid off Hill and Regina Gardner, assistant director of accounting.

Mitchell said that Gardner and Hill carried out “duties that are crucial to the FAMU NAA accomplishing its mission and goals for this academic year with success” and added that the position cuts were “an unwarranted setback for Florida A&M University’s greatest arm of support.”

The new assistant vice-president position that Lee began working in back in May 2015 stayed despite those big cuts to Alumni Affairs. Rufus questioned the process that led to the creation of that $130,000 per year job.

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