By Larry Robinson, Ph.D.
As 2021 comes to a close and we gather with family and friends during this Holiday Season, this is a good time to reflect on the challenges we confronted and give thanks for the opportunity we have to move our mission forward in service to our students and constituents. We must pause to give thanks to our Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, alumni and countless others who gave their time, resources and hearts to allow us to now envision and even brighter future for Florida A&M University.
The on-going COVID-19 pandemic has tested us in every manner imaginable, robbing us of far too many innocent lives. Time has also claimed our seventh and eighth presidents, Walter L. Smith, Sr., Ph.D., and Frederick S. Humphries, Sr., Ph.D., respectively, along with notable alumni including one of our greatest, former U.S. Representative Carrie P. Meek.
Their losses have compelled us to reflect upon from “whence we came,” the struggles we have overcome and the foundation these giants laid for our present success. Our push to be counted among the top 100 public universities in America would not have been possible without their efforts. The leadership of Presidents Smith and Humphries left us a blueprint not just for FAMU to survive but also to thrive.
Our University is undergoing a renaissance in student success, recruitment, infrastructure, research, athletics, corporate engagement and fundraising. In 2021, FAMU achieved its highest score ever in the Florida Board of Governors Performance Based Funding model, broke annual records in fund raising and research dollars garnered, and nearly doubled direct engagement with the private sector. We have seen record numbers of applications for the class of 2025 and are in the midst of yet another record-breaking year at the time of this correspondence.
Even during a pandemic year, the number of students inducted into the FAMU Graduate Feeder Scholars program increased year over year. This is a great indicator of the number of our students who will go on to pursue graduate and professional degrees.
It is not only the academic landscape that is changing at FAMU. Alumni returning to our campus see a vastly changed skyline. The Center for Access and Student Success, completed in 2020, is the centerpiece for our student success and customer service initiatives as we put a myriad of student services under one roof.
A stone’s throw away, venerable Bragg Memorial Stadium is undergoing $10 million in renovations, thanks to funding from the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency. This investment is recognition of the value FAMU adds to ou0r community and the potential for more economic benefits as we compete in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) in the years ahead.
On the southern end of the campus stands the 700-bed FAMU Towers residence hall that provides modern accommodations for our freshmen students including an array of Living and Learning Communities. Nearby is the brand new “Hub” which provides full-service dining options and a new turf field (better known as the “Patch”) for the Marching 100. At the center of campus stands the newly opened Will Packer Amphitheater and the Knight Foundation Plaza. With support from the City of Tallahassee we renamed Gamble Street to Robert and Trudie Perkins Way in honor of these two civil rights icons and have toppled the Paddyfote residence hall complex to create more green space on the campus.
However, FAMU is so much more than our buildings and facilities. We are our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other stakeholders, who have endured and persevered during the long winter that is the ongoing pandemic. We continue to operate the longest running free public COVID-19 testing site in Leon County as well as a free COVID-19 vaccination site, which offers all three vaccines. The last year reminded us of the challenges our students face and the thin line between economic survival and fiscal disaster. Our friends in Washington, especially members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which includes some of our alumni, have worked hard to ensure that FAMU and other HBCUs get the financial support needed to weather this once in a century crisis while maintaining operational integrity.
While we are encouraged by our progress, we refuse to stand still. This is no time for complacency. There is too much work to do. The competition for the best and brightest students is unrelenting. The competition for research funding and charitable gifts includes thousands of institutions across this nation. Even now, we are pushing ahead with a new five-year strategic plan that will help us set our priorities and focus our goals through 2027. The new strategic plan will be closely aligned with the Florida Board of Governors’ Performance Based Funding model metrics; responsive to evolving trends in higher education and the K-12 sector; and keenly attentive to workforce and societal needs and demands. We plan to take our place among the best 100 public universities in America.
We do all of this being fully aware that the pandemic is far from over. We strongly encourage students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated and to continue practicing recommended health and safety protocols to safeguard a successful spring semester.
FAMU is rising. Presidents Smith and Humphries both bequeathed us templates for our successful path forward. We honor their memory and their legacies by pushing forward. We thank all of you who continue to support us in our journey.
Larry Robinson, Ph.D. is the 12th president of Florida A&M University