(AP)- Florida A&M University trustees, seeking to shake up an institution that has been beset by scandals and administrative problems during the last decade, turned Thursday to a complete outsider to lead the institution.
Trustees picked Elmira Mangum, the vice president for budget and planning for Cornell University, to become the school’s 11th president.
The choice was unique for several reasons: The 60-year-old Mangum has no ties to the university, ending a tradition over the last few decades of having a president who attended the school. Mangum also became the first woman selected to the job permanently.
But for some trustees the key reason they hired Mangum was that she would be a “change agent” who could help FAMU restore its reputation following a tumultuous period that included the November 2011 hazing death of a FAMU drum major. The university has also had problems with finances and audits that led to investigations and firings.
“We just feel the status quo cannot continue,” said Marjorie Turnbull, a former state legislator and FAMU trustee. “To bring someone in with new ideas and who has experienced these issues at other universities, and corrected them, we feel was very important.”
Mangum, who said she was honored to be picked, promised that she would make changes once she is in place. During her interviews she stressed her ability to contain costs, bring budgets into line, while also working to maintain affordability for college students.
“I expect we will make changes,” Mangum said during a brief availability with reporters. “In order to go forward, you have to change.”
The choice of Mangum, however, was not unanimous, and followed an outpouring of support for interim president Larry Robinson. Robinson took the job in July 2012 after the abrupt resignation of James Ammons amid the fallout of the death of Robert Champion.
Robinson helped put in strict new anti-hazing rules for the school, overhauled the Marching 100 band, and dealt with sanctions placed on the university by a regional accreditation organization. FAMU’s probation was lifted in December.
But Robinson was not allowed to apply for the job during the search because trustees said it would dissuade other qualified candidates from applying.
Spurgeon McWilliams, a trustee, said that Robinson’s guidance during a period of crisis showed he was the best person for the job.
“I don’t think we have attracted a candidate who, in my opinion, is more qualified than Dr. Robinson,” McWilliams said.
Tommy Mitchell, president of the FAMU National Alumni Association, publicly blasted trustees for ignoring repeated requests by alumni to let Robinson apply. He said trustees had shown “arrogance” and “contempt” for alumni with their decision.
Despite the criticism, the vote by trustees was 10-2. While it is usually a formality, the selection must still be ratified by the state university system board.
Mangum, who has a background in geography and urban and regional planning, has been a vice president at Ivy League school Cornell since 2010. She has also been an associate provost at the University of North Carolina and held several administrative positions at the University of Buffalo. Her undergraduate degree is from North Carolina Central University.
“This is a visionary choice by FAMU’s trustees, and a great accomplishment for Elmira,” said Kent Fuchs, the provost for Cornell University, in a statement.
Solomon Badger, the chairman of the FAMU board of trustees, said that no start date or salary has yet been decided on for Mangum. Ammons was earning more than $340,000.
Robinson, who thanked the board for letting him serve as interim president, said Thursday he has not made a decision on his next move, although he vowed to work with Mangum during the transition. Robinson, who has a doctorate in nuclear chemistry, has tenure and could remain with the university as a professor.