Large donation causes stir in FAMU community

Florida A&M Officials pose with donor(pictured in the center)Gregory Gerami as he presents a novelty check to the University Photo Courtesy: Florida A&M University

On May 4, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) received a record-breaking donation; the institution was gifted nearly a quarter billion dollars during a spring commencement ceremony. Normally, this would be a time for celebration, however, it has caused quite a disruption within the FAMU community, and HBCU community at large.

During a graduation ceremony, Gregory Gerami and the IssacBatterson 7th Family Trust presented FAMU with a check for $237 million dollars as the crowd rejoiced. However, the large donation has raised eyebrows as alumni and students took to the internet to learn more about the generous benefactor. Gerami has a background and online presence atypical of other philanthropists, causing speculation. However, FAMU maintained that the donor had upheld his side of the agreement.

A public records request done by the Tallahassee Democrat revealed more information about the terms of the agreement. The amount was to be paid over 10 years in stocks that value more than the $237 million that was presented on the check at graduation.

One concern among the current student body was the proposal to divide the donation among different departments and initiatives.

The numbers are stated below as a mixture of expendable and endowed funds:

Center for Disability Access & Resources (CeDAR): $50 million
Athletics: $100 million
FAMU Entrepreneurship Institute (IE): $25 million
Student Success: $15 million
Academic Excellence: $10 million
Leverage the Brand: $5 million
Long-Term Fiscal Health and Sustainability: $15 million
Operational Effectiveness and Transformation: $10 million
Student Scholarships, Recruitment, Retention and Special University (SSRRSU) Initiatives Endowed Fund: $15 million
SSRRSU Initiatives Expendable Fund: $15 million
College of Agriculture and Food Sciences (CAFS): $12.5 million
School of Nursing (SON): $12.5 million
General Endowment: $10 million
President’s Discretionary: $5 million

“You can tell the values of FAMU and our staff based on the breakdown of the funds,” said Brandi Ash, a student at FAMU.

Ash expressed her dissatisfaction with this proposal. She just completed her first year as a biology pre-medical scholar and feels the pressure from inequities with funding for her school.

More money needs to be invested into individual colleges,” Ash explains, “I would love to see classroom improvements across the board. Our lab equipment is outdated [and I feel like] we don’t have the same opportunities and outreach as other colleges because we are underfunded.

Janelle Sears just finished her third year in the School of Journalism and Graphic Communications. She is hopeful for the outcome of this situation.

“I haven’t seen any other blatant misuses of funds so I am somewhat confident,” Sears explains, “I would love to see an investment towards more faculty and staff at the schools that are lacking such as the School of Journalism and Graphic Communication or the College of Social Sciences, Arts, and Humanities.”

FAMU is also known for its strong alumni community. Many regularly give to FAMU Foundation in order to provide for school improvements and scholarships.

On Thursday night, the FAMU Foundation Board of Directors met via Zoom to discuss the stir that has been caused by the large donation.

FAMU’s President Dr. Larry Robinson shared that the foundation has ultimately decided to “pause” their receipt of this gift in the interest of doing more research and being more transparent.

Director Terry Arnold spoke about the importance of transparency moving forward.

“We have to follow up with the alumni and show them that we have listened to them, we are reviewing our process, and we are taking accountability so that they can have restored faith and confidence in us,” Arnold urged the board, “…we have to get that communication out.”

At the tail end of the meeting Director Chekesha Kidd proposed an all-encompassing audit of the foundations processes to be done by a third party.

“We have staff doing nine figure transactions that we do not know about,Director Kidd responded when met with backlash.

That motion ultimately did not pass and was replaced with a more specific, amended motion made by Director Cecyl Hobbs to have an interdisciplinary internal audit of FAMU Foundation’s processes of accepting and receiving major financial gifts. This is in addition to the two full operational audits that have been mandated by the State University System in the past two years.

Florida A&M  University has shared their intent to continue meeting and sharing information with their community.