It was an unexpected decision by Florida A&M University standards. But in naming Elmira Mangum FAMU's next president, the trustees not only made history, but took a giant step forward in putting the historically black university back on the road to viability.
As FAMU's 11th president, Mangum will be the first woman to hold the title and the first president in 60 years not to have graduated from the 12,000-student school in Tallahassee.
By all accounts, she's a seasoned outsider who will bring fresh perspective to a university in need of fresh eyes.
Thursday's vote wasn't unanimous — two of the 12 trustees preferred another candidate. But it showed a promising shift in direction for a school still recovering from the hazing death of a band major, challenges to its accreditation and a too-low graduation rate.
Given her record of accomplishment, Mangum deserves the board's full support.
A graduate of North Carolina Central University, Mangum is a veteran university administrator who earned two master's degrees and her Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy from the University of Buffalo. She has more than 25 years of higher education experience.
A self-described "clean-up woman," Mangum is expected to leave her position as vice president for budget and planning at Cornell University to lead a school that twice has had its accreditation at risk — largely because of business and financial irregularities.
Audits dating back to 2003 detail a trail of sloppy bookkeeping and mismanagement. A 2007 audit found a number of discrepancies — totaling $39 million — involving financial aid, missing equipment and lost athletic ticket-sales records. The troubling audits prompted the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to put FAMU on probation in 2007, the most serious step before a school loses its accreditation.
The university righted itself, but wound up back on probation in the aftermath of the hazing death of FAMU drum major Robert Champion Jr. and the disclosure of more financial irregularities.
Over the past few years, the U.S. Department of Education has asked FAMU's financial aid office to return as much as $5.2 million and has pressed the school to address errors in how it tracks financial aid and students who stop going to class.
A 2013 state audit found no deficiencies in internal financial controls — an improvement over previous reports. Still, FAMU has a dubious administrative history that only a strong chief executive can correct.
The university still faces challenges, from improving graduation rates to raising money. But give FAMU trustees credit. They took a bold step in hiring Mangum, a highly qualified academician and leader, to help restore the university's prominence as a quality institution of higher learning.