Provost Larry Robinson is Interim FAMU President

Florida A&M’s Board of Trustees Monday appointed Provost Larry Robinson as the interim president of the university pending confirmation at the next face-to-face meeting of trustees in August.

Calling for “stability” and “continuity,” trustees unanimously named Robinson to the presidency in the wake of now-former President James Ammons submitting his resignation last Wednesday. But he has to present plans for the university sometime within the next few weeks.

Earlier in Monday’s meeting, the trustees had allowed Ammons to waive the 90-day exit provision in his contract for percentages of his bonuses. As of a little after 9 a.m., Ammons was no longer president of FAMU.

Robinson will be expected to make a formal presentation to the board of trustees before or during next month’s Board of Trustees meeting, which is tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 22, and Thursday, Aug. 23.

Trustees took a while deciding how they would proceed with the appointment.

Student Body President Marissa West cautioned that without clear leadership, the university was at risk from further criticism. “It is very important that we ensure stability… We cannot afford to be vulnerable,” said West, who was critical of the board’s history of slow actions. She motioned that Robinson, who would normally assume control of the university per rules for succession “to have as smooth a transition as possible.”

Some trustees supported an immediate appointment of an interim leader to fend off attacks to the university, which have many times aimed at the administration’s slowness to act. Others, like Trustee Cleve Warren, questioned whether the immediate selection was necessary given that the provost naturally assumes leadership once the president leaves.

Most of the trustees were in favor of Robinson given his experience as former head of accreditation body Southern Association of Colleges and Schools review and his work as provost, but some members insisted that he president, among other things, plans for his communication with the trustees and short and long-term plans for the running of the university.

Trustee Rufus Montgomery said, “I think this is so important. We should have this discussion (about any interim’s plans) before we hand over the keys to the university.”

Faculty Senate President and trustee Narayan Persaud said the faculty was “fully behind” Robinson being named interim president.

Trustee Charles Langston supported an appointment but said he hoped to have some time to vet and consider other candidates. West pressed the need for speedier action. She argued for immediate decision-making for the university.

After nearly an hour of discussion, trustees approved an amendment to West’s motion of appointing Robinson that would allow trustees time to “become familiar” with Robinson ahead of a final vote next month.

FAMU’s administration has faced a barrage of questions and comments almost weekly since the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion in November 2011. Critics chide the university for its allegedly lax policy on hazing and its unwillingness to respond to hazing allegations within the vaunted Marching “100” band. The band has since been suspended until the 2013-2014 school year.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Champion’s death, which followed a ritualistic beating aboard a bus called “Crossing ‘Bus C'” after the 2011 Florida Classic in Orlando, was a homicide and issued warrants for 11 former band members for felony hazing. Their trials are scheduled for October in an Orlando court.

Champion’s parents Wednesday added FAMU to a wrongful death lawsuit in which the owner of the bus company Fabulous Coach Lines, Ray Land, and driver Wendy Millette had already been named defendants. That afternoon, Ammons resigned in a letter to Board of Trustees Chairman Solomon Badger. Trustees requested an urgent meeting about the leadership of the university when news broke Wednesday that Ammons planned to resign effective Oct. 11, 2012.

Ammons was censured twice by Board of Trustees’ vote, most recently in June. Following an 8-4 no confidence vote from the board, Ammons apologized and said he would stay at the helm of FAMU to fix the problems affecting the university.  

The former president waived the 90-day notice provision in his contract in exchange for bonuses based on his salary, ending immediately his term. Ammons is set to receive 25 percent of his 2010-2011 base salary at the minimum contractual level, which is $81,250, and a 5 percent bonus for 2011-2012 bonus at $17,062.

Florida’s Board of Governors has final say for the interim presidency, and they are responsible for confirming a person to lead FAMU while the university searches for a permanent replacement to Ammons