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December 12, 2012

Scandals threaten FAMU’s accreditation

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A series of scandals in the last year — including the hazing death of a drum major — is now threatening to cost Florida A&M University its academic reputation.

FAMU officials were told Tuesday that the regional accrediting organization was placing the school on probation for the next 12 months. The university has one year to prove it is turning itself around or it could have its accreditation revoked by the Southern Association of College and Schools Commission on Colleges.

If accreditation is revoked, students won’t be eligible for federal financial aid.

Interim President Larry Robinson stressed that the probation does not affect the current accreditation of academic programs, but he didn’t downplay the threat to the university either.

“It is not a slap on the wrist,” Robinson said. “We’ve got to take it very seriously.”

The announcement represents another blow to the institution, which has already been reeling in the aftermath of Robert Champion’s death following a football game in Orlando. The fallout has already led to the suspension of the famed Marching 100 band as well as the resignation of its long-time band director and FAMU’s president.

Champion’s death triggered a review by the regional accreditation organization, which sent a letter in June seeking for more information. FAMU officials say they responded and handed over 1,000 pages of documents detailing changes they have made.

But Robinson said the accrediting body still faulted the university on several fronts, including the integrity of the institution, because a former top auditor submitted false audit summaries to its board of trustees.

FAMU was also asked about the safety of its students in the wake of the Champion’s death. Additionally, the accrediting body also cited lax financial oversight after state investigators concluded that the university did not keep track of expenses and finances for the band.

This is the second time in the last decade that FAMU has been threatened with the loss of accreditation. Back in 2007 the university was placed on probation for a series of rule violations, most resulting from FAMU’s inability to account for millions of dollars of inventory and some contractual arrangements made without proper approval.

“This is serious. Continued accreditation is the lifeblood of any institution of higher education,” said Dean Colson, chairman of the state Board of Governors, which oversees the entire university system.

Robinson told members of his own board that he is convinced that the university has already taken steps to meet the concerns expressed by the accreditation organization.

But the problems come as FAMU is starting to search for a permanent successor to former President James Ammons in the next few months. Robinson said that the association will give FAMU a written report on its findings soon and then probably visit FAMU’s campus in six months.

———

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