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Larry Robinson a good choice for FAMU, Tallahassee

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Florida A&M University is one of America’s most recognized Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). It is the only HBCU within Florida’s State University System.

Together with Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College, FAMU is a major presence in the Tallahassee community. Those of us who live here want a thriving FAMU that can make significant contributions to our culture, our history and, of course, our workforce.

While students, faculty, administration and alumni have a stake in a thriving university, so too do those who live and work here. Among those with no direct ties to the university, I am not alone in recognizing FAMU’s importance to the Big Bend region.

Florida A&M is again in need of another president. In the past, they have filled that role through promotions from within or from a national search following the service of an interim president.

Based upon recent history, the university does not need a national search. Someone who can do the job is already in it.

On three occasions FAMU has turned to Dr. Larry Robinson to bridge the gap between a departed president and that person’s successor. His current stint as interim president began with the ouster of the university’s first female president, Dr. Elmira Mangum, on September 15.

His first appointment came in 2007, but his most significant tenure followed the resignation of Dr. James Ammons in 2012 in the aftermath of the Robert Champion hazing tragedy.

Robinson’s interaction with the Board of Governors, his bosses, earned him high marks.

“Thank you for being so open in your affiliation with us,” said then-Chancellor Frank T. Brogan. “That has not always been the case. I know Florida A&M is going through a tough stretch. The only way you can address problems is to admit you’ve got them.”

Norman Tripp, a member of the Board of Governors, described Robinson’s resume as “astounding” at the time. Despite this, Robinson declared he was not a candidate for the appointment as full-term president. Mangum was selected following a nationwide search.

Robinson is in a different position in 2017. Last month he appeared before the Tallahassee Democrat editorial board. When asked if he was interested in the permanent position, Robinson responded with a declarative “who wouldn’t be?” He further added that he would be “honored” to serve.

He has the support of the presidents of the capital city’s other educational institutions. At a recent Martin Luther King Jr. tribute, Florida State University President John Thrasher threw his support behind Robinson.

“Larry Robinson is doing a superb job at Florida A&M University,” Thrasher told the crowd. “FAMU students deserve his leadership.”

TCC President Jim Murdaugh directed his comments to Robinson at the same event.

“I hope you get that job,” he said. “You certainly have my support. You have earned that job.”

Not everyone took the endorsements, especially from Thrasher, as a good thing.

In a column published in the HBCU Digest, Jarrett Carter Sr. wrote that Thrasher and Murdaugh’s support is “nothing good” for FAMU. He cites Thrasher’s role in advocating the splitting of the joint FSU/FAMU engineering program.

To be clear, the engineering issue divided members of the Legislature as well as supporters of both schools. However, it is difficult to see how Thrasher’s and Murdaugh’s support is a bad thing.

They not only represent their institutions, but also share with FAMU a leading role in the vibrancy of the capital community. It is in that sense, to use a legal term, that both have “standing” to do what they did.

This is the primary reason why this writer hopes that Robinson is selected. That and the memory of an opportunity I had to speak with him.

At a session-eve reception shortly before Mangum took over, Robinson was a humble, soft-spoken, advocate for his university. It did not take long to ascertain this was not only a brilliant man, but one who possessed the ability to connect with people.

Robinson is on a one-year contract as interim president. However, like sports coaches, contracts are torn up and extended when one does a good job.

Why not do the same for someone who has done so much for the university? Why not bring it up at the next board of trustees meeting?

Trustees cannot orchestrate this among themselves outside of public view, but there must be a growing sense they have their man in their midst.

Who will make the motion to make it happen?

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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