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.