MAXWELL:  The one-man show at Florida A&M

4/28/1999 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Most people agree that Frederick Humphries has done good things for Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, where he has been president since 1985.

He has, for example, put many of FAMU’s programs on the national map, won millions of dollars in grants and gifts and dramatically increased enrollment, while many other historically black colleges and universities are stumbling. FAMU attracts more National Achievement Scholars than Harvard University, and was named 1997-98 college of the year by Time magazine and the Princeton Review.

Despite Humphries’ success, many people, including increasing numbers of alumni, believe that he is the major cause of the university’s problems and should resign or retire. And clearly, compared to Florida’s other nine university presidents, the regents hold Humphries to a different standard.

During the last three years alone, the school has failed to pay either adjunct professors or graduate assistants for several weeks at a time, according to Monday’s St. Petersburg Times. Audits also show that the school has been doling out too much financial aid to some students and awarding aid to others who are unqualified. Theft also has occurred in the financial aid office.

Humphries blames the mismanagement on FAMU’s massive growth since his arrival. As to recent payroll problems, the death of a longtime employee is blamed. “No other person in the office was knowledgeable enough of the payroll process to effectively assume her duties,” David Coury, the regents chief inspector general, said in the Times.

How is such a situation possible, when only one person knows how to handle the payroll of a campus with 11,000 students? It is possible because FAMU is governed by a cult of personality. It is a one-man show up on the hill. Many people contend that administrators rarely make decisions when Humphries is away from campus. Why? “It’s not because I’m not letting them make decisions,” he told the Times. “I think they are sometimes afraid of the consequences of those decisions.”

Indeed, they are afraid. As students while away their time and study in relative peace, many faculty and staff are watching their backs, terrified of Humphries and the sycophants in his inner circle. Harry Byrd, a 1969 graduate and Tallahassee businessman, told the Times that faculty and staff avoid getting on Humphries’ wrong side.

“He goes after you,” Byrd said. “If you have tenure, he can make life difficult by moving you around. If you don’t, you’re worried that you never will. It doesn’t come directly from him. It comes from underlings _ department heads who are worried that if they say anything, they will lose money.”

Journalism professors Gloria Horning and Louise Reid Ritchie are feeling the brunt of one of Humphries’ misguided policies and dictatorial management style. Even though FAMU’s School of Journalism, Media and Graphic Arts, a faculty committee on tenure and the dean highly recommended the professors for tenure, Humphries turned them down.

He turned down Horning, who has won many awards and accolades, because she does not have a doctorate. In his quest for academic excellence, Humphries insists on having all Ph.D.s, even though most of the nation’s other journalism departments, including that of the University of Florida, want a mix of professionals and doctorate holders. Ritchie _ a former Detroit Free Press columnist, adviser to the university’s award-winning student newspaper and a recipient of the prestigious Kellogg Foundation Award _ was rejected, ostensibly, because she has not published enough scholarly articles.

Nearly everyone close to these cases, including Dean Robert M. Ruggles, believes that Humphries is wrong to deny these professors tenure. But, then, Humphries can do whatever he wishes.

The regents would not let any other president get away with such mismanagement and arrogance. Even John Lombardi, one of the state’s best presidents ever, nearly lost his job for lesser sins. The regents are applying a double standard to avoid being portrayed as racists. Who knows what Chancellor Adam Herbert is saying in private? In public, his spokesman is saying that the chancellor “is not upset with Humphries in any way.”

Well, he should be. His and the other regents’ kid-gloves treatment of Humphries is insulting at worst and condescending at best. He should be held to the Lombardi standard. The school’s payroll and financial aid departments are in a mess because Humphries will not hire strong, competent administrators who can make decisions on their own. If FAMU’s problems continue _ or worsen _ Herbert and the regents have only themselves to blame.