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FAMU stresses unity as way to fix faults
Without improvements, the college faces losing its accreditation.
By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published June 26, 2007
Larry Robinson, Chief Financial Officer at Florida A & M University, talks to a crowd of students, faculty, and supporters about the school's financial and accreditation problems.
TALLAHASSEE - Days after Florida A&M University was placed on probation because of chronic management problems, several hundred faculty members and students received assurances from a school official Monday that FAMU would survive "this very sensitive time."
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' SACS Commission on Colleges last Thursday placed FAMU on six months' probation after finding that the school has fallen short in 10 areas of financial management, leadership, and oversight of research and resources.
If those problems are not fixed, FAMU could lose its accreditation, meaning students at Florida's only historically black public university would not be eligible for federal financial aid.
A message of unity and hope by FAMU's acting chief executive, Dr. Larry Robinson, was well-received by a standing-room-only crowd of more than 500 faculty and staff members.
"No matter what SACS says, you're still here," Robinson told the crowd, as it broke into applause. "I've never, other than at a football game, seen this many of us in one place.
"It tells me you know how serious this matter is and you're ready to work," he said.
The faculty gathering packed the FAMU's pharmacy auditorium and several dozen overflowed into a separate room.
Robinson explained a series of upcoming deadlines, including a SACS team visit to the Tallahassee campus in September, which he said would enable FAMU to respond swiftly to the 10 problems cited.
He also said SACS has been inundated with "negatives" about the university through faxes, e-mails and letters.
Robinson noted that SACS could have issued FAMU a warning before putting the school on probation, but didn't -- and that SACS' decision came after FAMU provided its two most recent financial statements and responses to a state audit.
At a later meeting with more than 100 students, Robinson fielded several questions about whether the probation would affect undergraduate or graduate degrees.
"Your degree is just as valuable if you get it in August as it was three years ago," Robinson said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
But if FAMU loses accreditation, it would jeopardize students working toward a degree.
Merri Scott, a 22-year-old biology student, remained concerned after the meeting.
"Did you hear what he said?" she asked her friends, the Democrat reported. "If we lose accreditation my 120 credit hours will be for nothing."
If FAMU faculty members were angry or worried about the school's plight, there was little evidence of that Monday.
The well-liked Robinson, with a positive, reassuring demeanor, several times drew laughter from the audience.
He also pointedly resisted an opportunity posed by one questioner to point fingers at those responsible for FAMU's difficulties.
When Dr. Lekan Latinwo, chairman of FAMU's biology department, asked about possible layoffs, Robinson said: "It's premature for anybody in this room to start worrying about losing your job. We need you to be working harder than ever."
Clyde Ashley, a tenured associate professor in the school of business who has taught at FAMU for 20 years, said: "I think Dr. Robinson set a great tone to allay some of the fears. We have to be unified, and we have to work together."
Tracy Jones, an English instructor who has taught at FAMU since 1989, said she had no doubt that the university would survive.
"I think we'll pull together," Jones said. "It may lose some programs, but it will never shut down."
Times staff writer Ron Matus and researcher Mary Mellstrom contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.
These are the Southern Association Colleges and Schools' accrediting standards that FAMU failed to meet:
- The board is an active policymaking body for the institution and is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the financial resources of the institution are adequate to provide a sound educational program.
- The institution has a sound financial base and demonstrated financial stability.
- Has qualified administrative and academic officers.
- Recent financial history demonstrates financial stability.
- Provides financial profile information on an annual basis and other measures of financial health as requested by the commission.
- Audits financial aid programs as required.
- Exercises appropriate control over all its financial resources.
- Maintains financial control over externally funded or sponsored research and programs.
- Exercises appropriate control over all its physical resources.
- Is in compliance with its program responsibilities under Title IV of the 1998 Higher Education Amendments.