Trustees at Florida A&M University are either doing the worst job of trying to elevate Interim President Larry Robinson to a title many feel he earned years ago, or the best job of shielding him and the school from the political danger which may surround his appointment.
But in either case, the board has to do a much better job of building strategy around its intent – because extending Dr. Robinson’s interim status for a year only holds supporters and snakes in check until a real move is made.
“The unanimous vote is not only another signal of our confidence in the current leadership of Dr. Robinson and his team, but it is also a continuation of our journey toward making a good and thoughtful decision on selecting the next permanent president of Florida A&M University,” said FAMU Board Chair Kelvin Lawson. “Extending Dr. Robinson’s contract gives us time to weigh our options, post the next Board of Governors’ meeting, to determine if we will conduct a national search or ask Dr. Robinson to continue his work as the permanent president. The Board is committed to making the best decision for our university.”
It’s been a year since the board made Dr. Robinson interim president for the third time, with many outsiders believing that this would be the charm in giving FAMU’s ‘break in case of emergency’ president the proper charge to prevent FAMU from enduring yet another emergency in leadership.
But it’s also been just nine months since Dr. Robinson was endorsed for the permanent presidency by Florida State University President John Thrasher and Tallahassee Community College President Jim Murdaugh – leaders of two schools which would benefit immensely if FAMU were vulnerable to leadership inconsistent with its academic, financial, or legislative potential.
So you have to wonder why a board all too familiar with how to hire and fire a president in due order is suddenly weighing options about a man it has hired three times to lead the school on an interim basis. Anything that Dr. Robinson needs to prove, he has either proven or failed to do so in the first two tries. Any objections about his charisma, legislative savvy, politics, and ambition should’ve have been well exposed by now.
Everyone in Tallahassee believes that Dr. Robinson will be kind to alumni wishes for the direction of the school, so if his institutional cultural leanings aren’t enough to sell him, then what exactly is holding him back? The answer is politics, but it’s not clear what percentage of those are internal versus external, and how the board believes benefits will fall as a result; first for its members, and secondarily for FAMU.
If there is a candidate that the board wants but believes the university community won’t accept, then it should make the move now to sell the candidate or wish him luck four years from now when Dr. Robinson ‘retires’ or when the next FAMU president is fired. If that’s former presidential candidate Al Lawson or someone in that mold, then it’s up to them to make the overtures that will win over all of the parties involved, including state lawmakers and the Florida Board of Governors.
But FAMU will not benefit from a holding pattern; not with new rules on presidential hiring, not with the state now having to finance hurricane recovery and higher education a favorite for budget slashing when money needs to be found, and not when the HBCU community requires a vibrant FAMU to help in advancing the narrative of an HBCU sector poised for survival instead of collapse.