FAMU Can’t Afford a Lack of Transparency From Campus Leaders

Activities have begun for the inauguration of former multiple-time interim and now permanent president of Florida A&M University Larry Robinson. This event will formally end an almost six-year roller coaster ride that has been FAMU leadership, stemming from the scandal that caused the resignation of former president James Ammons and the board turmoil that lead to the short two-year tenure of former president Elmira Mangum.

Robinson appears to be a long-awaited figure representing stabilized leadership at Florida’s flagship HBCU. But a lot of questions surround the future of FAMU under Robinson’s leadership; especially on the state’s performance-based funding metrics, housing development, and enrollment management.

Earlier this year, FAMU missed out on additional state performance-based funding that the school had hoped to use for a new Center for Access and Student Success. This project is moving forward after the school’s request for state funding was not approved in the legislative session using funding formerly appropriated by the state.

With the most recent updates to Florida’s state-based funding model, FAMU expects to see some additional funding in 2019 due to projected stronger performance. Funding aside, the biggest question that surrounds the campus isn’t necessarily if FAMU will get the funding necessary to expand, but what that expansion will look like.

Alumni were surprised at last month’s homecoming festivities to see the demolition of four former women’s halls on campus adjacent to The Set. The demolition of these sites isn’t surprising news, as the board had mentioned in an article in June that the four dorms were offline.

What is not mentioned in the article, or any subsequent article, master plan, or official university communication, is what is to be done with the site of these four large dorms in the center of the campus. That information was provided by a construction sign near the worksite; these historic dorms are being razed to make room for a new campus amphitheater.

This amphitheater project is an example of where the lack of transparency at FAMU is glaring. If you search for information on this project anywhere online, it cannot be found. The project isn’t mentioned in any official FAMU press release and the campus master plan hasn’t been updated with this project. The FAMU master plan campus map for 2025 still includes Wheatley Hall with no mention of this proposed amphitheater.

The lack of communication from FAMU, and particularly President Robinson about the master plan and vision is alarming due to the history of FAMU with presidents and their relationship with the state. Many alumni remember the conundrum of controversy surrounding the presidency of Castell V. Bryant, considered by many to be a “pawn of the state.” Nearly two years ago, the HBCU Digest published commentary which questioned Robinson’s endorsement by FSU President James Thrasher.

Months after that endorsement, it is worth noting that guidelines on presidential searches in Florida were waived for FAMU to finally appoint Robinson after several trial runs as interim president. How and why that happened only underscores the chronic lack of transparency surrounding what we know to be a politicized campus and mission.

If this is how the tenure of Larry Robinson’s administration at FAMU will begin; built on vague quotes in local news articles, outdated master plans on the university website, and little to no official communication on large infrastructure projects; many FAMU stakeholders have to become even more engaged and demand more of the administration.

With pending election results that could see former Florida Governor Rick Scott elected to the US Senate and Trump acolyte Ron DeSantis elected as governor; it is more important than ever that FAMU’s president is engaging all stakeholders to ensure that FAMU’s future success is the vision of the campus, and not a partial effort designed to solely align with state leadership which has historically worked to put obstacles in FAMU’s way.

Partial transparency isn’t transparency at all. It is imperative that alumni and stakeholders hold President Robinson and the board accountable for transparency on the campus’ development.

6 comments
  1. indeed; JL Carter should stop ignoring this blatant problem at Howard University, but he’s too cozy with the masters of the DC plantation.

    1. As this comment is anonymous I don’t know who I’m responding to, but I’ll mention this: This piece was not written by JL Carter, nor was it his idea.

      This piece focuses on the new administration at FAMU, but the Digest does have multiple pieces on the challenges Howard has faced in the past year.

      Please search the site for those pieces to leave comments concerning Howard’s current administration.

  2. The article you authored didn’t mention any attempt to contact anyone from FAMU’s Administration. Did you make any attempt to question them about the Amphitheater project? Did you try to contact anyone in FAMU’s facilities department about it? All of their contact information is easily located on FAMUs website. Furthermore, given that FAMU is a state school in the state of Florida, it must adhere to the Sunshine laws meaning they make information public and respond to public inquiries. The minutes, agendas, and materials that the board reviews is public, can easily be located on FAMU.edu and it has been that way for YEARS – THAT IS TRANSPARENCY!

    Now, you only listed the amphitheater project as your example of a lack of transparency, what other examples do you have besides the amphitheater project because it isn’t a valid point. Anyone with any knowledge on the workings of construction projects at a University within the State University System of Florida would be able to tell you that all construction projects do not have to go before the board for approval – the Facilities management department does have a bit of autonomy with renovations, small scale projects, etc… They don’t have to run to the board to get every new light fixture, paint job or renovation approved.

    Specifically addressing the amphitheater project, have you ever heard of the William H Gray Jr Plaza & Ctr? That was a central plaza that connected all of the dormitories that is slated for demolition where the amphitheater is going, and its 5 dormitories, not just Wheatley Hall as the article incorrectly stated. In fact, Wheatley Hall is nowhere to be found on the updated Master plan which the Board approved today (it was listed publicly on FAMU.edu along with several letters of approval from the City of Tallahassee, Leon County, Board of Governors, and many other entities – again TRANSPARENCY). The Gray Jr Plaza was a place where students held events – probate shows, etc… There were stairs to reach the roof and students congregated in the courtyard areas to watch. So the amphitheater project is in essence a renovation of that plaza and doesn’t need board approval since it was a facility that was already there and isn’t using PECO funds or any other funding that requires approval from the board.

    Overall, this is a hit piece that was reckless from the start. You should have done better research and actually reached out to administration or facilities to get answers instead of trashing one of the top rated HBCUs which is headed by a man you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who has anything negative to say about.

  3. Also, state performance funding has zero relation to construction projects. The Center for Access and Student Success is being paid for with PECO Funds (Public Education and Capital Outlay) which is tied into the overall state budget and voted on by the Florida Legislature and signed by the Governor. PECO funds and performance based funding are completely separate of each other. The performance based funding system in Florida is actually being scrapped for being unfair and ineffective and had you done your research you would have known that.

    Overall it’s sad to see an entity such as hbcudigest.com publish lies on an HBCU all while purporting to be a supporter of HBCU issues. A public retraction and apology for such a disgusting and irresponsible article is needed for HBCUDigest to regain any credibility.

  4. This piece isn’t a hit piece in any way, shape, or form. It was written solely to shed light on an issue brought to the Digest by dozens of FAMU alumni and stakeholders after attending homecoming this year. As the piece states, there was no official press release, addition to the master plan, or press clippings in any publication surrounding this specific project. That’s a lack of transparency.

    This piece is an op-ed, so there’s no need to contact administration because it’s an opinion piece; not official news. As I mentioned, stakeholders shouldn’t have to go through all these hoops to be made aware of this major project; tearing down dorms where thousands of alumni began their time at FAMU in those women’s dorms.

    Going through minutes, contacting the administration, etc are all barriers to information. FAMU and Robinson need to be held accountable to continue to publicly release updates on the physical campus. They have no issue doing that for a myriad of other projects but this “slipped through the cracks”. And in my opinion that comes off as intentional.

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