MIAMI GARDENS — Students arriving on South Florida’s only historically black college campus to begin their fall semester were greeted with news that the school’s president, Karl Wright, had been abruptly replaced.
Wright had served as president since 2007.
Serving as interim president of Florida Memorial University is Sandra Thompson, 61. Thompson is a 30-year employee of the 130-year-old institution. Her most recent position was as the university’s provost.
Prior to being appointed to FMU’s leadership role, Wright, a former business school dean and assistant professor of commodity marketing and economics at North Carolina A & T State University, served as FMU’s executive president and provost.
In a prepared statement submitted through FMU’s public relations firm, board chair Charles George said, “The Board of Trustees felt there were differences between Dr. Wright’s priorities and those of the Board regarding the University’s focus and direction, and therefore, the Board decided to seek new leadership for the University by conducting a search for a new president who would be more in tune with the Board’s priorities.”
The board provided no further details regarding its decision.
Thompson began her career at what used to be Florida Memorial College as a professor of Sociology before working her way up to becoming chairperson of the division of social sciences, director of institutional self-study and assistant provost.
She was the university’s provost for three years before being tapped to lead FMU, home of “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” widely referred to as the Negro national anthem. The school earned university status in 2004.
Thompson, who has not indicated whether she will seek the position permanently, issued the following statement:
“The University plans to continue its efforts to advance the opportunities for its students and faculty. In fact, we have just started the new academic year and have welcomed approximately 1,800 new and returning students to campus…It is my intention to uphold the high standards and traditions that have shaped Florida Memorial for the past 130 years and to make sure that during this transition period, the University continues its history of achievement.”
The school, which has been in South Florida since 1968, has 94 full-time faculty members, offers 41 undergraduate degree programs and four master’s programs. It relocated from St. Augustine, where it was housed for 50 years.
Students interviewed on the sprawling Miami Gardens campus said they are optimistic about the school’s future under Thompson’s leadership.
Sudannee Stuart, 20, a finance major from Miami, said she is hopeful that Thompson, a widowed mother of two, will be named to the position permanently.
“I’m glad that she’s a female. I hope she stays. I hope everything works out with her,” said the point guard for the Lady Lions basketball team.
April Allen, a junior computer information systems major from the Bahamas said, “I think it may be a good change. Dr. Wright had his time and he did what he could’ve done. Now we have a new person and she’ll do her part as well. I think it’s a good change. I’m very optimistic.”
Venetia Ashley, 21, a junior human resources management major from Orlando and a shooting guard on the women’s basketball team, said she liked Wright.
“I liked Dr. Wright. He likes athletes, and I’m an athlete,” she said with a chuckle.
Thompson’s credentials are impressive. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Voorhees College, a master’s degree from Fisk University, a certificate of French from the University of Poitier in LaRochelle, France; and a Ph.D. from the University of Florida. She has also earned a certificate from Harvard University’s Institute of Educational Management.
Eric Frison, 21 a sophomore nursing and biology major, said he’s adopting a “wait and see” philosophy about the new leadership.
“She said a little speech [at last week’s freshmen orientation] saying her goals for the year. It’s fine with me.”
Willie Bryant, 23, a political science major from Chicago, said he found out about the leadership change via “word of mouth on campus.”
Bryant said he is “definitely” optimistic about Thompson’s leadership.
“With the right guidance, we’ll all be OK,” he said.
Photo: Sandra Thompson