Ammons in final 3 for job

NCCU leader continues to seek Florida A&M post

Staff WriterDecember 19, 2006 

— James H. Ammons, chancellor of N.C. Central University, is one step closer to having to choose between working in Durham or Florida.

The NCCU leader survived another cut in candidates competing to become the next president of Florida A&M University.

Ammons, a former provost of the 119-year-old university in Tallahassee, is among the final three, according to FAMU officials.

It could be March before Ammons knows his fate. The FAMU trustees hope to seat the next president by March 8.

A return to Florida could make NCCU the fourth historically black UNC system school looking for a new leader within a six-month period.

N.C. A&T University in Greensboro named a new chancellor in November. Elizabeth City State University and Winston-Salem State University are searching for new leaders.

Ammons, a FAMU graduate who grew up in Florida, has been NCCU chancellor since 2001. He has been at the helm as the university works to expand its enrollment numbers and enhance its reputation as a leader in training young African-American students in biotechnology.

When asked two weeks ago whether he would he would return to FAMU if offered the president post, Ammons said it was too early to make the decision.

He was attracted to the job, he said, because he and his family have strong ties to FAMU.

Erskine Bowles, president of the UNC system, has known about Ammons' interest in the Florida job for several weeks, according to a system spokeswoman.

Ammons said Bowles told him that he wanted him to stay in Durham. But Ammons has said he is flattered by the attention of his alma mater.

FAMU, established in 1887, is larger than NCCU with its nearly 11,910 students and 889 faculty. NCCU has about 8,600 students.

On the list of candidates with Ammons are: Thelma Thompson, president of the University of Maryland at Eastern Shore in Princess Anne; and Howard C. Johnson, provost of the University of North Texas in Denton.

The three were selected from a field of six after two days of interviews late last week.

They are scheduled to return to Tallahassee on Jan. 17, 18 and 19 for sessions with faculty, students, alumni and the community.

The trio will be asked to attend a meeting of the FAMU board of trustees Feb. 1.

Ammons did not return a call Monday seeking comment.

If Ammons were to be offered the FAMU job and to leave NCCU, it is unclear whether he would court some of the administrators here to return to Florida with him.

Shortly after his arrival, Ammons mined FAMU to fill key administrative positions at NCCU.

Charles O'Duor, vice chancellor for financial affairs, worked at FAMU before coming to NCCU. Sharon Saunders, director of public relations, also was at FAMU before joining the NCCU staff.

Kimberly Phifer-McGee, interim administrator and coordinator of instructional and faculty development at the NCCU Center for Teaching and Learning, has a FAMU link, as does Roland Gaines, vice chancellor of student affairs.

During his tenure at NCCU, Ammons has built on the money and prestige that former Chancellor Julius Chambers helped bring to the Durham campus.

NCCU had struggled for years with dwindling enrollments, low SAT scores for incoming freshmen and buildings that were falling apart.

Under Ammons, enrollment numbers and SAT averages have moved up. Millions of dollars have been funneled into a new biotechnology training program.

But he also has had to battle problems with mold in residence halls.

During the spring, he tried to keep the campus calm after news broke that an NCCU student -- hired through an escort service to dance at a team party -- alleged that she had been gang-raped by three Duke University lacrosse players.

In an October issue of Inside Higher Ed, Ammons co-wrote an article about that time: "Lessons From the Front Lines."

Staff writer Anne Blythe can be reached at 932-8741 or ablythe@newsobserver.com.

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