The New Leaders of FSU and FAMU Look to the Future
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Florida A&M University President Elmira Mangum
The Change Agent
Elmira Mangum: Florida A&M University’s ‘Transformative’ President
By Rosanne Dunkelberger
Florida A&M University’s 11th president hadn’t even hung the curtains in her on-campus residence when controversy came a-knockin’. On April 2, 2014, Elmira Mangum’s second day on the job, the Florida Legislature, at the behest of one Sen. John Thrasher, was considering whether to break up the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.
The effort was ultimately sidelined by the state Board of Governors after vehement objections from Florida A&M and a study showing that splitting the engineering college would cost $1 billion.
Mangum says there are no hard feelings between her and Thrasher — now president of Florida State University — about what she referred to as “the engineering thing.”
“Surprises occur at colleges everywhere, but right now we have a great relationship with Florida State University around the engineering program,” Mangum says. “The joint college that was emphasized as a result of the takeover attempt … actually has resulted in a much better relationship for both of the schools around engineering.”
The two presidents, as well as Tallahassee Community College President Jim Murdaugh, communicate with each other cordially and regularly.
“We talk. He’s got my cell, I’ve got his cell,” she says. “John and I have breakfast on occasion. I’ve been to his house for dinner, and he’s coming to mine for dinner.”
Time for a Change
While the engineering college brouhaha developed quickly, Mangum knew before she arrived that her tenure as president wasn’t necessarily going to be smooth sailing. The nation’s premier historically black college and university (HBCU) had been weathering numerous storms: a student killed in a hazing scandal, accreditation woes and a 27-percent drop in enrollment over the previous five years. She would be FAMU’s sixth president (including three interim presidents) in 13 years.
Although many of her predecessors were tasked with righting the FAMU ship, their presidencies tended to wreck on the rocky shoals of problems such as dysfunctional operations, an often-contentious Board of Trustees and an entrenched staff that was resistant to change.
But a change agent was exactly what FAMU’s presidential search committee was looking for, and change is what they got in Mangum. She’s the first female president of FAMU in its 128-year history and the first leader in decades to have no connection to the university — alumni, faculty member or administrator — before being appointed to the top position. In her first year as president, Mangum has assembled an 11-person leadership team. None worked for FAMU when they were named, and only two had a previous connection to the Rattler Nation.