WFSU Local
1:19 pm
Tue December 11, 2012

Updated: FAMU Placed On Accreditation Probation

Five years ago, Florida A&M found itself  on accreditation probation. The reason? Financial problems and a series of blistering state audits. Now, the university is in a similar place again. Call it a case of really bad déjà vu:

“There’s got to be message here. And the message I think SACS is attempting to send is, we’ve got to get the Florida A&M house in order, and not for the short term, for the long term," said Frank Brogan, Chancellor of the State University System.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools or SACS, is FAMU’s accrediting body. And following its annual meeting, SACS officials slapped FAMU with probation, citing a number of problems that have cropped up at the university during  the past year. First, the obvious one: the hazing death of a university band drum major. FAMU’s Interim President Larry Robinson says the school was docked on failing to provide a healthy and safe environment for its students:

“The issue still stems from the hazing death of Mr. Robert Champion.”  

Champion died last November after being beaten in a hazing ritual aboard a bus in Orlando. His death also sparked state investigations, one which delved deep into the finances of Florida A&M University’s Marching 100 band. That investigation uncovered more than 100 non-students who were allowed to participate and travel with the band on the schools dime. The same investigation also called out the under-reported theft of student band fees from several years ago. And, along the topic of money, the university was also docked for a series of internal audits done by its former audit director that contained missing, incomplete and even fraudulent information. Robinson says he believes those audits are a prime reason for the probation sanction:

“The fact that those audits were inappropriately done or not at all, could have led them to the decision of the university being out of compliance on that matter.”  

Pamela Cravey represents the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Cravey says it’s not one single thing that led the group to its decision, but the combination of several different problems at the university. She says the audits, the finances and the hazing scandal have prompted a closer look at the school.

“Probation is a failure to correct deficiencies or to make satisfactory progress toward our principles of accreditation.”

Cravey says the audits, the finances and the hazing scandal have prompted a closer look at the school.

 “Well, you know they’re still accredited, and I think that’s the critical thing that people, especially parents, want to make sure that’s what people realize. They haven’t correct lost their accreditation. It’s just giving them 12 months to correct some problems.”  

FAMU Officials have been working over the past year to address the problems. The school’s new audit director comes from the state of Florida audit office. It’s instituted anti-hazing seminars and workshops, and a new anonymous reporting system. The school is also working on tightening its financial controls. But there’s still lots more the school will have to do. Another independent report by the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees FAMU on a state level, will release its own report on the school’s governance status next week.

The university has scheduled a town hall meeting at 11 am Wednesday to address concerns.

The probation sanction comes as the school tries to search for a new president. And the timing of the sanction, says University System Chancellor Frank Brogan, couldn't be worse.

“This is serious. Continued accreditation is the lifeblood of any institution of higher education,” said Board of Governors Chair Dean Colson in a statement.

“However, I am encouraged by the important steps already taken the past few months by Florida A&M University’s Board of Trustees and its new administration. The Board of Governors stands ready to help however it can.”

A wrongful death lawsuit against the university by the parents of Robert Champion is pending in the courts. So far, two people have been convicted on misdemeanor hazing charges, 11 more face felony charges which carry up to five years in prison.

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Update 2:10 pm:   Officials with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits Florida Florida A&M citing concerns over incomplete audits , the hazing death of a drum major and an investigation that revealed about 100 ineligible students traveling with the band who received payments from school officials for travel.

SACS informed FAMU of its decision following a meeting with Interim FAMU President Larry Robinson at its annual convention Tuesday.

In a conference call with university board members, Robinson said many of the problems cited by SACS have already been addressed:

“If you look at what we’ve done in the past year to address the issues around the audit as well as the control of finances…health, safety and security, it would get you to a different place.”     

The University fired its audit director and appointed a new one. It’s also revised its hazing policies and instituted new rules for student travel and payments. FAMU will be under probation for a year and accreditation officials have planned a site visit for the Spring. The university will hold a town hall meeting at 11 am Wednesday. FAMU remains fully accredited, despite its probationary status.

Robinson will speak with reporters shortly.

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For the second time in a decade, Florida A&M University has been placed on probation.

The order came from the university's accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Interim FAMU President Larry Robinson alerted the school's board to SACS's decision in an emergency conference call.

SACS officials made their decision based on the hazing death of a drum major and subsequent investigations into the finances of Florida A&M's "Marching 100" band. That investigation revealed about 100 ineligible students traveling with the band, many which had received payments from school officials for travel.

The accrediting organization also cited problems with about 15 audit reports which included missing and incomplete information.

Check back later on for more on this story.

For more news updates, follow Lynn Hatter on twitter @HatterLynn