If the presidents of two schools which lose funding, enrollment and valuable metrics in performance-based support by the mere existence of Florida A&M University say that they endorse a particular candidate for president of FAMU, then how exactly should we feel about that candidate?
To be clear, this is in no way an indictment of Larry Robinson, a three-time interim president who has earned the admiration and respect of the FAMU community in Tallahassee and beyond. But this is an indictment of whatever view lawmakers in Tallahassee may have about Robinson’s prospects of finally getting the FAMU presidency, which in the gray area between guaranteed and impossible, has caused two sitting presidents to chime in on a peer institution’s presidential search in unprecedented fashion.
John Thrasher was ushered into the Florida State University presidency with national controversy surrounding his credentials, political agenda and the state’s commitment to one of its largest public institutions.
This is the same Thrasher who as a state senator sought funding within a proposed split of the joint college of engineering between FAMU and FSU, on the first day of then-president Elmira Mangum’s tenure at the school.
His proposal was eventually defeated by outcry from FAMU alumni, a warning from the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for its potential to spur a federal discrimination lawsuit, and a price tag of more than $1 billion to effectively split the schools.
In context, Thrasher’s comments were made and echoed by Tallahassee Community College president Jim Murdaugh, who along with Dr. Robinson were guests at an annual tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But politicians rarely do and say things for the benefit of context; they do them for the benefit of their constituents and for their own political capital.
If opponents of Dr. Mangum thought her relationship with Thrasher and other members of the state political machine was too cozy, what do they now make of those same players publicly cheering for Robinson as the next Rattler in Chief? Is it a showing of good faith from fellow colleagues? Is it an indirect effort to steer trustees and committee members on the Board of Governors away from Robinson as a candidate, or is it a nod to a decision that has already been made, which ultimately stands to benefit FSU and TCC more than FAMU?
Maybe we’ll never know what the words meant, but we do know that FAMU’s existence doesn’t benefit them personally or professionally. So cheering for its next president should not be interpreted as opponents “coming to their senses.”