TALLAHASSEE — The regional accrediting body that placed Florida A&M University on academic probation last year has returned the school to good standing.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools voted Tuesday to remove FAMU from probation and the watchful eye that comes with it. The penalty was imposed as a result of the November 2011 hazing death of drum major Robert Champion and improper internal audits performed by a former FAMU employee.
"While we celebrate, let's also remember that we have to keep up the good work that led to this outcome," FAMU Interim President Larry Robinson said during a conference call to inform the Board of Trustees about the decision.
Robinson and other university leaders are attending the SACS annual meeting in Atlanta, where accreditation decisions are handed down.
It was at last year's annual meeting where the probation was imposed. During that time, FAMU's accreditation remained intact but the ruling created a dark cloud that affected its recruitment efforts and reputation.
From the time the probation was instituted, FAMU said it was already working to address the issues raised. The accrediting organization also received a positive report from a team that spent several days at FAMU a few months ago.
The school said it was showing progress, including bringing the Marching 100 band off suspension under new tighter standards.
If SACS was not satisfied with FAMU's progress, it could have kept the university on probation another year or taken it a step further and revoked accreditation, which could have made students ineligible for federal financial aid.
Instead, university leaders anticipate a formal letter affirming the school's good standing.
FAMU Student Body President Anthony Siders, a member of the Board of Trustees, praised Robinson for his leadership and repeated what has become the school's battle cry: "Forward ever, backwards never. FAMU today, FAMU tomorrow and FAMU forever."
Now that the school's accreditation issues are cleared up, the board is focusing on restarting its search for a permanent leader. Robinson has been serving as interim leader ever since President James Ammons resigned in July 2012 at the height of the hazing and auditing scandals.
Board members have faced pressure from students and alumni to allow Robinson to vie for the permanent position, though he agreed not to apply when he accepted the job of interim president.
The search was suspended earlier this year right before finalists were to be publicly identified. Robinson was not among them. At the time, trustees said the accreditation issues should be handled first before a new leader is brought in.
After the SACS vote, Robinson spoke to both the interim state university system chancellor and Marshall Criser, who takes over the position on a permanent basis in January.
"This proud and venerable institution is making great strides, and we look forward to continuing our close relationship with FAMU's Board of Trustees and leadership team," Criser said in a memo to Board of Governors members informing them of the SACS decision.
Interim chancellor Jan Ignash said FAMU had made some difficult decisions in the wake of its accreditation woes, but the benefits are long-term.
"From clamping down on hazing, to reducing the number of under-qualified students who are admitted, to rethinking certain operational and business practices, FAMU is on a path toward greater stability," Ignash said in the memo. "No doubt there is still important work to do, but today's decision by SACS is a signal of progress."