Alumni react to I-A decision

The Board of Trustees’ decision to halt the move to Division I-A has left some of the university’s alumni disappointed in its administration and discouraged about the University’s future.

“People have always said that African American institutions are not ready,” said State Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee. “It is 2004, so when are we going to be ready?”

The board voted last Tuesday to remain in Division I-AA, while keeping the contracts to play three away football games against the University of Illinois, Oklahoma University and Virginia Tech University, as well as one home game against Toledo University.

President Fred Gainous, who asked the board to reconsider the move, said the halt would be in the best interest of the university because financially, the University was not ready. He said it is also important that officials focus more on retaining students and academics, as opposed to the Division I-A move.

“If we re-apply again, we will have a two year transition period,” he said.

Despite Gainous’ stance, others said they believe the move back has a greater loss, than the move forward would have had.

“He made decisions that will hurt the credibility of our University,” said Dr. Spurgeon McWilliams, a spring 1964 graduate of the university and a local practicing physician. “It’s not appropriate to change your mind after a commitment.”

McWilliams and Lawson both head the University’s booster board. Both were appointed by Gainous and former interim athletic director J.R.E. Lee to raise funds to help the University in its move to Division I-A. According to Lawson, the booster club gives $100,000 a year to the athletic department. With the proposed move to Division I-A, the boosters were aiming to give $500,000 or more. The decision to stay in Division I-AA has halted those plans.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen next,” Lawson said. “The new athletic director will have to determine what direction to go from here.”

Some people question the credibility of persons placed in decision-making positions, whose loyalties may not be to the University, but elsewhere.

Brodes Hartley, a 1955-56 SGA president, said he is deeply concerned about the leadership at the university.

“There is a history of tribal leadership at FAMU,” Hartley said. “Individuals with no history at HBCUs receive appointments in significant places…these are appointments that trouble us.”

“It raises serious concerns for us.”

Hartley, who was recently inducted as the second vice president of the National Alumni Association, said he does not want to see the University fail.

“I do not know the master plan, but we cannot sit by, silently, while a HBCU allows its own self destruction,” he said.

McWilliams agreed.

“There are challenges in moving forward, but there are definitely problems moving back,” he said. “Once the school’s credibility is on the line, then you have to act in the best interest of the school.”

DeAnna L. Carpenter can be reached at