When students enroll at Florida A&M University, we enter into a pact. When public and private funds are provided to support our students and operations, we are committed to effective stewardship. Our team — the faculty, staff and administration — agree to provide inspirational teaching, character building, extracurricular experiences and a safe and stimulating environment in which students can learn and grow.
In return, our students accept the challenge of cultivating a strong knowledge base built upon the foundation of our core values to become successful adults. They accept the challenge of pushing themselves to improve their own lives and the livelihood of their communities.
Our Board of Trustees develops policies that provide our team with the framework to establish and implement procedures that satisfy the requirements of state and federal agencies, private and individual donors and the public. Our team adheres to the highest standards of accountability while working in a collaborative spirit to resolve issues when they occur.
Many of the headlines associated with the university over the past 18 months provide a painful reminder that now is the time to push even harder for continuous improvement to satisfy our own expectations and those of our constituents.
But what the headlines do not convey is the broader context – a story of a university that has been working arduously to address the issues behind the headlines and to get even better at our many positive attributes.
A recent story behind the headlines is the fact that, in March, the university received a clean financial audit from the State Auditor General — the sixth consecutive unqualified audit.
The headlines do not tell the story of the FAMU that U.S. News and World Report ranked as the country’s No. 1 public historically black college or university (HBCU) or of the FAMU that the Washington Monthly magazine ranked as one of the Nation’s Top 100 Universities, or of the FAMU that the Princeton Review’s 2012 Edition named one of the “Best Colleges in the Southeast.”
The Florida A&M University that we know remains one of the nation’s top producers of African Americans with bachelor’s degrees. In 2009-10, FAMU produced 20 percent of the nation’s African Americans with doctorates in the environmental sciences, 16 percent of the nation’s African-American PharmDs and 20 percent of the nation’s African American Ph.Ds in the pharmaceutical sciences. On May 4, FAMU awarded six minority students Ph.Ds in environmental science, perhaps more than any other institution in the nation.
Yet, we are taking seriously the lessons of the recent past and working on bettering our institution, because, like every university or organization, we must take stock of our challenges in order to avoid these same problems in the future.
Over the past six months, we have engaged in deep introspection and have identified on our own other areas not covered in the headlines that need improvement and have either addressed the issues or developed corrective action plans to do so. We have also worked on the concerns highlighted by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and are preparing for the association’s August visit to assess our progress.
While the process is ongoing, the good news is that we are not going it alone. We have buy-in from key constituents. We have developed a close working relationship with Chancellor Frank T. Brogan and the Board of Governors staff as we address operational issues. Our alumni are fully engaged in the continuation of our efforts to recruit the best and brightest students and to provide financial support at a time many of our students are facing financial challenges.
In a spirit of transparency, we have, in fact, opened the lines of communication with the media.
Because all of these stakeholders know, as do we, that FAMU is a strong asset and a stronger FAMU makes for a stronger Florida. That is why it is our goal to not just rebuild the image of FAMU but also to solidify our foundation so that our university is among the finest in the country. We contest the headlines not in a sense of denial but simply to make note that even as we solidify our foundation, great things happen at FAMU every day.
*Larry Robinson is interim president of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee.