© 2023 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

FAMU Trustees Chairman Resigns After 'Failed Coup'

Florida A&M University
Florida A&M University President Elmira Mangum

A day after trying unsuccessfully to fire the college's president, Florida A&M University Board of Trustees Chairman Rufus Montgomery resigned on Friday.

An appointee of Gov. Rick Scott, Montgomery announced his decision in an email to fellow trustees that described his relationship with university President Elmira Mangum as "broken and irreparable."

"An expected spirit of cooperation with the board's responsible efforts to hold the president accountable has not materialized and is not likely to occur with the current board," he wrote, adding that the challenges facing FAMU "require an effective working relationship between the board chair and the university president."

Rufus Montgomery, ex-chairman of the FAMU Board of Trustees

  Montgomery, a Republican lobbyist based in Atlanta, will remain a member of the Board of Trustees, while Vice Chairman Kelvin Lawson will become acting chair until a new election is held.

"With this change, we are recommitting ourselves to a conciliatory approach as we continue to provide leadership in the best interest of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University," Lawson said in a statement.

The surprise resignation followed an emergency board meeting early Thursday at which Montgomery and other Mangum critics tried twice to fire the president, once with cause and once without. The proposals failed by votes of 7-5 and 6-6, respectively.

Montgomery and some other trustees have repeatedly clashed with Mangum in recent months, and Thursday's conference-call meeting was held because of allegations involving renovations to the president's residence and four employee bonuses --- allegations that Mangum refuted.

Trustee Tonnette Graham, the president of FAMU's Student Government Association, objected to the votes because she said the board should take public comment first. But Montgomery proceeded.

Even as the trustees were voting, FAMU students were siding with Mangum. In the hours that followed, they gathered on the steps of Lee Hall, FAMU's main administration building, calling for Montgomery to resign. Then they marched to Scott's office, where they met with members of the governor's staff.

"When you make a decision at 7:30 in the morning over the phone to remove our president without hearing my concerns and my voice, I have a very big issue with that," FAMU student senator Brandon Johnson, who helped lead the march, said Thursday. "She's doing an excellent job."

Former university Trustee Marjorie Turnbull, a Mangum ally who left the board last spring, credited students with forcing an end to the months-long impasse between Mangum and Montgomery.

She also said Montgomery had made a wise decision in stepping down.

"I do not believe there was any positive outcome for him continuing as chair," Turnbull said. "He has been opposed to her since the first day she took office. And if the university is going to move forward, the board must have a chair that is willing to work in a collegial manner with the president."

State Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat who has led efforts to support Mangum during the conflict, also hailed Montgomery's resignation "because he set a tenor of mistrust."

Joyner, whose law and undergraduate degrees are from FAMU, urged Montgomery to "examine his past behavior … and really accept the fact that there's a woman at the helm without micromanaging and meddling by the board."

Turnbull said the trustees could move past the conflict and accept Mangum as the university's first woman president.

"There are certain board members for whom the fact that she's a woman has been a barrier," Turnbull said. "I do not believe that's the case with the majority of the board."

Scott's press office had no comment Friday, saying the governor had not yet received a letter of resignation from Montgomery.

Attorney Chuck Hobbs --- a FAMU grad, Mangum ally and popular blogger --- thinks the board and president should go on a retreat and use mediation to resolve their differences.

But if they can't, he said, FAMU supporters should "put outside pressure on what I call the gang of six that sought her ouster yesterday, to do the honorable thing and resign completely from the board of trustees."

As to the next chairman, Hobbs said, "It would need to be someone who was not involved in the failed coup yesterday."

Montgomery is up for reappointment at the end of the year, as are the majority of the trustees.

"Our stakeholders need to be mindful of the potential appointment of up to eight new board members over the next three months and the impact of those appointments on the future of the university," he wrote as he resigned.

WUSF 89.7 depends on donors for the funding it takes to provide you the most trusted source of news and information here in town, across our state, and around the world. Support WUSF now by giving monthly, or make a one-time donation online.