TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida A&M University trustees on Wednesday turned to a familiar face to lead the university as it continues to deal with the fallout from the hazing death of a marching band member.
Trustees confirmed Larry Robinson, who spent time in President Barack Obama’s administration, to serve as interim president while the university embarks on a search for a permanent leader.
Robinson had been serving the university as its number two official since last November, the same month that drum major Robert Champion died. Robinson takes the place of James Ammons, who abruptly resigned in July amid the ongoing scrutiny of the university.
Robinson had been FAMU’s provost and helped draw up the university’s anti-hazing plan that includes new academic and membership requirements for the famed Marching 100 band when it resumes playing. The band was suspended for the entire upcoming academic year.
“Sometimes you don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Robinson said. “We’ve got a running start. We’re moving very aggressively in implementing that plan.”
Trustees said they turned to the soft-spoken Robinson, a research scientist whose background is in nuclear chemistry, in order to offer some “stability” to the university as it starts a search that could last anywhere from six to 12 months.
“We have both an insider and an outsider,” said Narayan Persuad, a trustee and president of the FAMU faculty senate. “Dr. Robinson is not a product of Florida A&M University but his dedication is to this institution.”
Robinson first came to the university as a professor in 1997 and held several positions, including vice president for academic affairs. He left FAMU in 2010 to take the position of assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The 57-year-old Robinson will get paid $325,000 a year while he holds the job, but he agreed to not apply for the permanent post to ensure that the university can attract a wide range of potential applicants. Robinson’s choice as interim president has to be ratified by the state Board of Governors, which oversees the entire university system.
Robinson takes over an institution that is also grappling with falling enrollment, lackluster fundraising, an athletic department whose budget has been in the red, and criticism about its ability to graduate students.
There are still two ongoing investigations, including a criminal investigation into band finances and a probe by the State University System of Florida into whether university officials had ignored past warnings about problems with hazing at FAMU.
The criminal investigation has widened beyond the band finances, FAMU’s top auditor said on Wednesday but he did not provide details.
State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan, in a letter sent this week to an accreditation agency, stated that authorities are looking at whether employees or others associated with the university had “engaged in fraud or other misconduct.”
A FDLE spokesman refused to make any additional comments on “the scope of the investigation.”
In the same letter, Brogan said he expects a draft report of the university system investigation finished by mid-September.
Robinson said bolstering FAMU’s graduation rates and reassuring parents that their children will be safe on FAMU’s campus will be among his top priorities.
Eleven FAMU band members face felony hazing charges, while two others face misdemeanor counts in the hazing of Champion. They have pleaded not guilty. Meanwhile, Champion’s family has filed a lawsuit against the university.
The Champions claim university officials did not take action to stop hazing even though a school dean proposed suspending the band because of hazing three days before their son died.
School officials also allowed nonstudents to play in the band, fell short in enforcing anti-hazing policies and did not keep a close eye on band members to prevent hazing, the lawsuit said.