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FAMU leaders say Thrasher mischaracterized their position on FSU split

Published Apr. 7, 2014

The Senate agreed to spend $13 million in state funding to help Florida State University begin creating its own engineering school separate from Florida A&M University largely based on the testimony of Sen. John Thrasher. The St. Augustine Republican is an FSU alum and is rumored to have an interest in becoming the university's next president. But he also one of the lions of the Legislature and his opinion carries lots of sway in Tallahassee.

But was Thrasher wrong when he said FAMU's new President Elmira Mangum had agreed to begin working with FSU's interim President Garnett Stokes to map out a plan for splitting the two schools' joint College of Engineering? A spokeswoman for Mangum says, "Yes."

"There was no such agreement," said Alonda Thomas, FAMU's communications director, in an email to the Times/Herald. "Dr. Mangum and Dr. Stokes agreed that they need to review the current amendment to understand its impact on FAMU if it should be approved. They agreed that the process is not collegial and that it is not the process in which collaboration is conducted."

Thomas said there was no agreement to begin drafting a "memorandum of understanding" about how the split would occur. Confronted with the conflicting information after the Senate adjourned Thursday night, Thrasher said his comments were based on what Stokes told him after she met with Mangum Thursday morning.

But there are more discrepancies. Larry Robinson, whose tenure as FAMU's interim president ended when Mangum took office Tuesday, said Thrasher also mischaracterized conversations he had with former FSU President Eric Barron. Barron's last day was Wednesday; he becomes president of Pennsylvania State University next month.

Robinson said he and Barron had informal conversations about the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, but he never agreed that a split was the right course of action. Thrasher said during Thursday's debate that the two presidents had spoken about the plan and gave the impression they were on board.

"That is totally incorrect," Robinson said Friday about Thrasher's statements. "My position has always been that it's a bad idea."

FAMU's Board of Trustees has come out vehemently opposed to the proposed split, and alumni and supporters have begun calling lawmakers in hopes of keeping the plan from making it into the final budget.

Meanwhile, FSU trustees and administrators have not spoken publicly about the issue. (UPDATE: Stokes sent an email to the FSU community this afternoon saying that she supports the plan and believes the two schools should begin working on a timeline for the split right away.)

House Speaker Will Weatherford, Gov. Rick Scott and university system Chancellor Marshall Criser have also steered clear, thus far. Each of them issued statements that avoided taking a position on the issue.