Chris Timmons: A FAMU ex-president and a Jimmy Carter comparison
Prosecutors give a fuller picture of Robert Runcie's crimes. Image via AP.

This has to be the most on-its-face absurd comparison, but circumstances make it an apt one: Former Florida A&M University President Frederick Humphries is officially the Jimmy Carter of former FAMU presidents.

This is not the Jimmy Carter of Habitat Humanity, Sunday school lessons in primitive Georgia churches, or the former president who’s trying permanently to eliminate the guinea worm crisis in Africa.

This is more like the Jimmy Carter who interferes in sensitive diplomatic matters with rogue nations like North Korea (against the Logan Act and courtesy) and says nasty things about his predecessors. It is the egoistic and self-righteous Carter.

Humphries, known for his successful and popular run as president of FAMU during the 1990s, has become an outspoken opponent of the direction current President Elmira Mangum is taking the university.

Rather than politely keep his opinions to himself, Humphries has lambasted Mangum on Facebook. Since last year, Humphries has kept up a running commentary on what he believes to be the faults in vision and execution that plague the Mangum Era.

He has taken every opportunity to give presumptuous lectures and exaggerate every decision he disagrees with. But why would a former university president do this? Why is Humphries being both rude and a gasbag?

If a guess has to be made, it began when Humphries offered his services as a recruiter to attract high-caliber students, something he did exceptionally well as president in the 1990s — for example, attracting more black National Merit Scholars to FAMU than Harvard. But the Mangum administration declined. It said the recruiting game is a different business today than during the Humphries Era. That was wrong: President Truman could find a place for the beleaguered Herbert Hoover.

Since then, Humphries has been vocal in a way he never was in the last decade and more since his departure from Lee Hall (where the presidential office is located on FAMU’s campus).

There have been considerably worst presidents (Fred Gainous; James Ammons — a Humphries protégé) but Humphries was extremely tactful. Now, he complains, and his complaints are contrived and baseless.

Currently, FAMU is changing the operational dynamic of its joint engineering college with Florida State University.

Back a year ago, then state Sen. John Thrasher brought a bill to the state Senate floor to dismantle the joint school because of the dysfunctional relationship between the two universities, a clog in decision-making, and FSU’s designs to be a top-research public university.

Because FAMU had been losing students, FSU’s aims to be among the best of the best in public research institutions would receive something of a blow, in part due to its general weakness in STEM-related areas.

So this is crucial. Yet because FAMU currently handles the fiscal side, which is mostly clerical in nature; it does not have the ability to make improvements on the academic side.

So a switch has been made by the Mangum administration, giving FAMU control of the academic dean and policy area, and FSU “fiscal agent status.”

This rather yawn-worthy event has caused the usual kerfuffle, partly because FAMU supporters are paranoid about anything FSU (historically because of FSU’s theft by legislative act of FAMU’s law school during Jim Crow; historically, too, because of the embattled black middle-class sense of possessiveness of its institutions and sense of inferiority to white institutions. See E. Franklin Frazier.)

Instead of staying out of the business altogether, Humphries has provoked the paranoids even more.  Says Humphries: “I believe this to be a significant blow to FAMU, in particular,” and, he said, to historically black colleges and universities “in general.”

It is no such thing.

According to a FAMU administration fact sheet, FAMU’s engineering side has had a student decline of 46 percent. FSU’s student population increased by 32 percent. FAMU needs the dean item because personnel is policy.

The dean hires faculty; designs programs: The right faculty and programs are crucial to attract and retain the right students. It is that logical.

So it is a disservice to FAMU that Humphries’ bruised ego made him abuse the broad respect he has earned and misuse the credibility he can lend at a crucial moment for FAMU.

Well, as with Jimmy Carter, one can hope for the more humanitarian side of Humphries to come out from hiding: For an embattled new president, an embattled FAMU, and its students and supporters, that too, is crucial.

Chris Timmons is a writer living in Tampa. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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