Florida A&M University Board Chairman Solomon Badger recently postponed the search for the university’s president, citing the need for its current administration to focus on fixing accreditation issues that a new president should not have to face. It’s difficult to buy that explanation, given that the issues were as present at the beginning of the search as they were at its termination, just weeks before a new president was to be announced.
For many FAMU alumni and students, there can be only one of two explanations – the search committee was not satisfied with the list of candidates, or the accreditation issues are more serious than many have been led to believe. FAMU’s ability to come back from significant breakdowns in financial oversight, student affairs and public goodwill will be tethered to the person who will assume the permanent presidency of the school.
Despite limitless potential and value in its academic and social outreach components, FAMU is viewed as a reclamation project, one of the biggest in HBCU history. Political and media antagonists continue to spin this narrative against the school, and the fatigue of the 24/7 bad news cycle around FAMU has now affected the most delicate element of its comeback story – its ability to attract the person who will need to become the greatest president in university history.
From outward appearances, FAMU Interim President Larry Robinson has balanced keeping quality leaders to support the school’s vision and goals, while seeking out the weakest administrators whose laziness and incompetence landed FAMU in the space of its greatest institutional adversity. There will be firings, there will be self-reporting, and there will be penalties the university will face as a result of its past sins, but not for a lack of trying on the team now charged with FAMU’s salvation. There once was a philosophy that Florida A&M was too big to fail; too popular, too historic and too entrenched in the hearts and minds of its students and graduates.
But economics and innuendo have chipped away at that philosophy. Students who once considered FAMU their top and only college option now shrink away to other possibilities. Donors watch to see how long it will take the university to show a clear roadmap to sustainability.
And potential great suitors for president question if FAMU can ever truly achieve all it can and is supposed to be.
Perhaps clearance from SACS will open the door to new presidential possibilities for FAMU, or maybe Dr. Robinson will be the one to lead the return to Rattler Glory, despite conflicting reports about whether he even wants the permanent post. The torture of the saga is that there will be no clear answers on how to combat hazing, how to strengthen the administration, restore public trust and rebuild the FAMU brand without a dynamic name and track record coming into the presidency. Attracting that name will take a consistent effort from students, alumni and influential supporters, advocating for what makes FAMU great today and forever. With that kind of outreach, perhaps the tide can turn in the headlines and hallways of state legislature, enough for phones to ring and minds to change about leading the school on the highest of seven hills.
But without that outreach, the first and biggest step in preserving FAMU as we know it won’t be taken. The last hope is that the FAMU fatigue which has claimed the best intentions of many in and around the university, hasn’t totally sapped the energy of its core supporters in their efforts to keep going.