Interim President Meets Students

Students asked Interim Florida A&M President Larry Robinson about his plans for their programs and the university overall Thursday at a town hall meeting. 

About 50 students gathered at Hansel E. Tookes Student Recreation Center to meet Robinson, who until Monday was university provost. 

The interim president opened with a pitch for the university, announcing plans to boost students’ academic success. Robinson said the university wants to ensure the next academic year, which begins at the end of August, starts well and that students make steady progress through their degree programs.

“Those priorities we have for the year also align those strategic priorities in our universities strategic plan. And one of those areas of emphasis this year will be on retention, progression and graduation,” said Robinson, adding that the university would hire more faculty, advisors and counselors to improve the “academic experience” of students.

Asha Rizor, a senior biology student from Georgia, asked the first question: She wanted to know, given that some pre-medical advisors do not have STEM or medical degrees, whether the university planned to hire more people to guide students through their pre-medical training. 

Her question: “What exactly do you plan to do or what is your commitment to making sure that any faculty or staff have the proper training and qualifications to effectively get more STEM students into medical programs or Ph. D. programs?”

Robinson agreed, saying that university was about to add 20 new faculty members, including at least three in biology. 

Student Government Association Vice President-elect Michael Jefferson read a question from student Jennifer Smith sent via Twitter. Her username is JennNJuice56. She asked, “What initiatives are you planning to implement in order to restore student morale?”

Robinson said he intends to make himself and his leadership team more accessible to students to better understand the true experience of FAMU. 

“I want to have meetings like this where you can tell me a couple of things occurring in your lives as students so we can actually think about that from your perspective as oppose to the things that we are planning that may not have relevance to your reality,” said Robinson. 

Marquise McMiller, a third-year political science student from Gary, Ind., asked  whether Robinson would life the ban on new members for student organizations in the fall. Former President James Ammons had in January prohibited all clubs and organizations from admitting new members for Spring 2012.

Robinson said he would allow organizations to get new members but added that, “Things will be a little bit different.” In June, FAMU’s Board of Trustees discussed a plan for student organizations that included greater oversight and stricter membership requirements. 

Brandon Cunningham, a music industry student from West Palm Beach, Fla., asked about the ongoing ban on music student performances, saying that recruitment is harder because, “students do not have a venue to perform in, outside of the class room setting” and that graduate schools expect to review students’ performance history. Ammons announced in May suspension of all music ensembles that included Marching “100” band members. The university’s famed marching band remains suspended until the 2013-2014 school year. 

Robinson said: “I think it would be appropriate as we bring in additional individuals and see if we are at a different place and where. “We’re trying to set up an environment that at some point in the future, the BOT can be in a place to feel comfortable in lifting all prohibition in regard to the music program.”

His interim presidency came after a lengthy Board of Trustees meeting at the start of this week where he was chosen to temporary lead the university “subject to confirmation” after Ammons left in the wake of the hazing “crisis” that has marred the university for eight months. 

FAMU’s Board of Trustees will be meeting in August to discuss, among other things, the search for a permanent replacement for Ammons and to vote on confirmation of Robinson as the actual interim president. His appointment is conditional pending a further vote by trustees based on his plans for the university.