Many students and faculty members at N.C. Central University say they are sad at the prospect of losing Chancellor James Ammons but understand he is returning to his personal and professional home after taking NCCU into a new era.
"Without a doubt, he has taken the university to another level," said history professor Freddie Parker, a faculty member for 30 years and chairman of the faculty senate. "I think the university is much better off because of his time here."
On Thursday, trustees at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee voted 7-6 to offer Ammons the job as the school's 10th president. The trustees will ratify the vote March 8 before the recommendation is officially sent to the board of governors for approval.
At a press conference Friday at NCCU, Ammons expressed excitement at the thought of returning to his alma mater and the school where he spent 18 years of his career before coming to NCCU in 2001.
He said he owes NCCU a debt for preparing him for the presidency at FAMU.
"It would not be possible to go on to A&M without the experiences I've had here at NCCU," Ammons said. "This will always be a special place for me and my family."
While details of Ammons' contract with FAMU remain under negotiation, he said he hopes to finish out the semester at NCCU.
"It is my desire to graduate the spring class of '07," Ammons said.
Stakesha St. Clair, a senior business administration major from Maryland, said she will be sad to see Ammons go but understands his desire to return home.
"It's his alma mater," she said. "To go back home is what you want to do when you get to a certain point in your career."
Parker said the key to the next chancellor's tenure will be to continue the track Ammons laid.
"It's about continuing what he's done," he said. "If we can continue it, we'll do well. I hope whoever replaces him will not allow us to retreat or go back."
Brandon Chapman, a freshman theater performance major from Connecticut, said Ammons' work as chancellor was a big part of what drew him to the school.
Chapman pointed to Ammons' emphasis on community leadership as a trait that struck home with him.
While everyone seems to agree that Ammons' replacement has big shoes to fill, Ammons said he knows the decision will be in good hands.
"I have all the confidence in the world that the board of trustees will identify another leader to come forward to continue that momentum," he said.
While Ammons expressed excitement about returning to FAMU, he also stressed that he has a job to finish at NCCU, and the details of his contract with the Florida university are far from final.
Once FAMU makes him a formal offer, he said, he will confer with his wife and son to make a final decision.
When Ammons came to NCCU in 2001, he brought with him several members of his leadership team from FAMU. He said it is too early to consider whether any of those staffers will return to Florida with him.
As news spread on campus of Ammons' departure, many students said they appreciated the chancellor's commitment to campus life and hoped a replacement will have similar qualities.
Charles Futrell, a senior and NCCU football player, said he appreciated Ammons' support of the football team.
"He came out to every practice," Futrell said.
Ammons also would routinely give a pep talk to the team before games, Futrell said.
Ammons also was a big fan of the NCCU band, the Marching Sound Machine. He would take hot chocolate to musicians and gave a speech to the group before they left for the Honda Battle of the Bands in Atlanta, NCCU junior Kevin Williams said.
"I hope we get another chancellor that loves the band as much as he does," said Williams, a percussionist in the band.
In addition to supporting students, Ammons helped NCCU grow since being appointed president there in 2001.
The university's enrollment has increased by almost 50 percent, more National Achievement Scholars have been recruited, and more than $121 million has been invested in campus expansions and renovations. Ammons also helped advance plans for a biomanufacturing research institute.
Shaun Simmons, an NCCU junior, said he hopes the new chancellor will help the university grow as much as Ammons has.
An ideal chancellor, he said, would be an ambitious "go-getter" who cares about students and the surrounding community. Ammons, he said, has those qualities.