For a second time, FAMU grapples with accreditation problems

He's confident the school will address issues.
Published December 13 2012
Updated December 13 2012

TALLAHASSEE — A second trip to accreditation probation is a serious issue that could not have come at a worse time, Florida A&M University's interim president told students and faculty Wednesday.

But at an emergency town hall meeting, Larry Robinson said many issues flagged by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools are being addressed. He said that gives him confidence that FAMU will come away from a one-year probation with its accreditation intact.

"What SACS wants to know now is, where are we, and show us evidence that you're in compliance with these standards, and that is what we're going to do," he said.

Schools must meet about 70 standards to maintain SACS accreditation, and FAMU was deficient in four.

Two relate to the discovery last year that internal audits were improperly done, which caused SACS to cite the school for failure to meet "principles of integrity" and to question whether school administrators are qualified to hold their jobs.

The other two failed standards — one on finances and another on campus life — are related to the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion and subsequent news that the Marching 100 band misspent travel money.

FAMU hired a new vice president for audit and compliance, revised its policies to add new checks and balances and is hiring a new band director and other positions intended to root out hazing.

Tommy Mitchell, president of the FAMU National Alumni Association, said the town hall allayed some of his fears about SACS probation.

"It's clear that all of the issues mentioned are a year or more older," Mitchell said, "and since that time, the university has taken action. So I'm not as much concerned as I was, particularly since we are still accredited."

Several students and instructors praised Robinson for his swift response to the ruling and offered to help as the school prepares for a SACS site visit in the spring. One graduate student encouraged him to use the sanctions as an opportunity to clean house if needed.

"Maybe it's time to get some younger people or some people who aren't necessarily FAMU alums, just people who are qualified," said Kachi Ukpabi Jr., an Atlanta native studying for a doctor of pharmacy degree. Other students snapped their fingers to show their agreement.

Robinson noted that he is uniquely qualified to help the school through this period because he was also a point person when FAMU was placed on SACS probation in 2007, stemming from issues with school operations and its budget.

The school was removed from probation in 2008. On Wednesday, Robinson asked students heading home for the holidays to spread the word that FAMU remains strong academically.

His next public address will be for a happier time: graduation.

"All of those students who are going to be marching across the stage on Friday, shaking my hand among others, the education and educational programs that you are matriculating from are as good today as they were before this decision was rendered by SACS," he said.

Tia Mitchell can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.