What we think: New FAMU chief must sharpen academic focus

Florida A&M University dodged the accreditation bullet — again. It's not the first time the school has dragged out its administrative drama so publicly. Hopefully, it will be the last.

Next month, the university will choose a new president. With that appointment comes another chance for the famed historically black university to refocus its energies on academic excellence. That shouldn't be too much to ask for a school with such a rich history.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the university's accrediting body, cited four issues that led to FAMU's second probation in five years. To its credit, the university's administration addressed each issue, ranging from student safety — stemming from the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion — to a series of bogus audits.

Champion's death, at the hands of some of his fellow Marching 100 members, led to the iconic band's suspension and eventual restructuring under new leadership. It's no longer the massive 400–member ensemble, thanks to new rules and higher academic requirements for student participants. Its return has been welcome.

"These remedies, these constructive actions we put in place, are institutionalized. It should not matter who is sitting at the CEO level of the institution," Larry Robinson, FAMU's interim president said after learning the probation had been lifted.

Now comes a new milestone as the university ramps up its process to select its 11th president. Within 48 hours after SACS lifted the probation, FAMU's trustees announced a timetable that could have the board naming a new president on Jan. 9.

This time the process needs to give each of the candidates — more than 40 have applied — a fair shot. Former FAMU president James Ammons had the inside track as the school's former provost when he got the job. He resigned last year amid the Marching 100's hazing scandal and the accounting problems.

Robinson, also a former provost, replaced Ammons. To his credit, he has ably steered the university through the worst of the crisis and put it back on course to educate students and improve academic achievement.

Robinson had said earlier that he would not seek the presidency, although his familiarity with the school and his efforts to rally faculty, staff and alumni to overcome the SACS probation would make him a credible candidate if he has a change of heart.

Haste and familiarity, though, shouldn't drive next month's decision. Whoever becomes the next president must understand the university's mission, set high standards, have ambitious goals — and give students, faculty and staff the tools to achieve them.

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