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Florida A&M President's future remains unsettled

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida A&M University Board of Trustees on Friday delayed a decision about whether to extend the contract of President Elmira Mangum, leaving open the question of her future.

The contract --- now in its third and final year --- expires at the end of March and has been a matter of passionate debate in the FAMU community.

A standing-room-only crowd attended the public-comment portion of the trustees' meeting Friday and appeared to be evenly divided on the question.

But trustees decided to take up the contract at their next meeting in September, which is also when they will finalize Mangum's yearly evaluation.

If the board takes no further action, her contract will expire, said Kelvin Lawson, who was elected chairman of the Board of Trustees at Friday's meeting. He was not sure what would happen when the board receives Mangum's evaluation, which is expected in August.

The 13-member Board of Trustees has eight new members since a failed attempt to fire Mangum last fall. At that time, Lawson was the author of a motion to remove Mangum for "incurable cause."

"I think some of us that have been around longer have a slightly better perspective," he said Friday. "I think the other board members are going to have to go through that review and then probably get (last year's evaluation) as a point of comparison to decide if anything at all needs to happen, or if the president's just allowed to work out the balance of the term of the agreement."

Last month, Mangum rejected Lawson's request to extend contract talks by 45 days past a June 30 deadline for the board to declare its intentions. Had she agreed, Lawson said, the board would have been in a position to alter other aspects of her contract.

"The desire was to look at changes we wanted to make as a board, because there are some very, very favorable terms toward the president in the contract," Lawson said. "And we wanted to bring it a little more in balance with the other contracts in the (state university system). However, we did not get agreement to do that, which consequently precipitated us taking an action today."

Mangum said she would not resign.

"The board can do whatever it wants to do," she said. "I'm here to serve, working for the students, so the board can go line by line, they can extend, they can add, they can change, they can offer options."

She said she was pleased by the way the board handled the decision.

"They decided to be deliberate and to make a decision based on information," she said.

Newly appointed trustee David Lawrence, a former publisher of the Miami Herald, agreed.

"I think temperatures have been lowered," he said. "I think we'll end up with honorable answers. I'm optimistic and encouraged by what I've heard these last two days."

Lawrence praised Mangum and Provost Marcella David for presentations at the meeting on their strategic plan for the university.

"I think there is no question that there's a vision of excellence," he said.

Mangum is the first woman to serve as permanent president since FAMU was founded in 1887. She is also the first FAMU president in 60 years who didn't graduate from the university.

If her contract is not renewed, she will be the sixth president to come and go since 2001.

On Thursday, a group of former FAMU presidents sent a letter to the trustees, urging against renewing Mangum's contract on the grounds that the university was in turmoil. Signing the letter were former presidents Frederick Humphries and Fred Gainous and former interim presidents Castell Bryant and Henry Lewis.

Mangum's supporters contend that she hasn't had enough time to resolve problems she inherited. They also warned that if her contract is not renewed, it will be difficult to attract candidates of national stature in the future.

FAMU National Alumni Association President Greg Clark --- who last month wrote an op-ed supporting Lawson for chairman --- said the wider FAMU community is "divided down the middle" but would support the board's decision regardless.

"We hope that in the future we can attract great candidates, whatever we do decide," he said.

Lawson replaced Cleve Warren as board chair. Warren, who was chairman from November through May, was widely seen as a Mangum ally, but he was not reappointed to the board by Gov. Rick Scott. Lawson's term expired on Jan. 6, but neither he nor a Scott spokeswoman were aware of any plans to reappoint or replace him.