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FAMU's 125th Birthday Marks A Milestone

Florida A&M began its life as the State Normal College for Colored Students on October 3, 1887 with 15 students and two instructors. But getting to 125 years old hasn’t been easy for the school. Its student body helped launch the Tallahassee Bus Boycott of the 1950’s and the lunch counter sit-in’s of the 1960’s.

As the state’s only public historically black university, FAMU’s value would be questioned again and again. In the late 1960’s the school fought for its very survival, as state lawmakers considered merging the school with Florida State University.  

“FAMU is an exceptional place. It has an exceptional history. But mixed in with that exceptional history, are tremendous moments of turmoil," said FAMU's eighth President, Frederick Humphries.

Humphries was the keynote speaker at FAMU's Founder's Day Convocation, and 17-year term as president marked a period of growth at the school. In 1997, FAMU would reach its peak—being named Time Magazine/ Princeton Review’s College of the Year. But then Humphries left. A series of bad financial audits led to accreditation woes. Two presidents have come and gone and the school is now trying to recover from the hazing death of a drum major which gained national attention.

“I really believe when any organization goes through a period of turmoil it is easy to lose the forest in the trees if you’re not careful," said  State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan, head of Florida's  the public university system.  

Brogan says he knows times have been hard. But he also says the school’s contributions in terms of human capital shouldn’t be forgotten.

“...producing students In the area of business, pharmacy, architecture—to make sure that people remember future leaders are coming out of Florida A&M University every single day, regardless of the circumstances that surround the institution.” 

Despite the school having the lowest graduation rate among Florida’s public university’s it’s still one of the nation’s top producers of African American baccalaureate degrees, and a top producer of graduate degrees for black students in the area of science, technology, engineering and math. And FAMU’s 10th President, James Ammons, says the school also has historical value.

“When you take a look at historically black colleges and universities, they serve so many purposes. But the main one is that they are the repositories of African American history and culture," he said.    

Ammons recently resigned in the wake of the hazing scandal. As Florida’s only public, historically black university, FAMU stands apart from the rest of its state university system counterparts.

When you consider that Florida A&M University started October 3, 1887. I think that could only be called an act of God," said Fred Gainous, FAMU's ninth president.

He says FAMU has helped provide access to higher education to students who would otherwise be locked out of the system for not meeting the state’s admissions standards.

“It has allowed those individuals who are under prepared, under financed, and under everything else, to access higher education and become a successful citizen. What else is higher education for?” 

Recently FAMU has been criticized for accepting students who don’t meet the state’s admissions standards. And the school has tightened up on who it will accept.  FAMU’s first 125 years have been full of contradictions, controversy, triumph and failure. But the school’s supporters say they continue to look forward.

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

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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