The Al Lawson conspiracy theory

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One of the most divisive issues left to be settled during the final two weeks of the 2014 legislative session is whether to separate FAMU’s and Florida State’s engineering colleges.

For supporters of FSU in the Legislature, an independent engineering program is part of a larger scheme to raise the school to one of the nation’s top 25 public research universities.

Critics argue the project was not part of FSU’s stated legislative priorities, or on the university system Board of Governors’ listing of construction projects under consideration. The FSU engineering department was even missing on the school’s web page detailing its intentions for the session.

What was on the site was a $15 million request for a 75,000-square-foot common school project, Brandon Larrabee of the News Service of Florida notes.

The Florida Legislative Black Caucus opposes the measure, as does FAMU.

A statement issued by five former FAMU presidents said the move “sends the wrong message to the citizens of Florida, and other interested parties, about how the Legislature and academic institutions should interact,” Larrabee writes.

Interim Provost Rodner Wright told reporters last week that Thrasher’s idea caught the university off guard, especially at a time when the school is setting up new leadership after the selection of President Elmira Mangum.

It’s the selection of Mangum which has led to a conspiracy theory about the engineering school.

Call it Al Lawson’s revenge.

The theory begins with Lawson applying in December to be president of FAMU.

Unfortunately for Lawson, he’s not interviewed for the job and he doesn’t make a list of semifinalists for the post. (Don’t think it didn’t hurt Lawson that the interviews for the job he wanted were conducted in a building named after him.)

On March 6th, Lawson turns more than a few heads by registering to lobby for Florida State University.

Days later, Sen. John Thrasher reveals his plans to separate the two engineering schools.

Meanwhile, Lawson, who is credited with shepherding the original legislation which established the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, says proposing to split up the joint college shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the union has been unstable for both FAMU and FSU for nearly 20 years, reports Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Lawson said FAMU should be assertive in making its case that, if the engineering school is yielded to FSU, it must get written assurance from the Board of Governors that the body will provide support to both FAMU and FSU.

“I wouldn’t be opposed, if I was FAMU, to having its own engineering school, but with (the assurance) of resources,” Lawson said, pointing out successful engineering programs at both North Carolina A&T and Howard universities. “You don’t want to say I can’t operate without Florida State. It was never a successful marriage. Those problems have not gone away, and people have reached their limit.”

Lawson is also vouching for Thrasher.

“I have always trusted John Thrasher,” he said. “He’s always been a friend to FAMU.”

Let’s hope FAMU’s hiring of Elmira Mangum is worth it because it appears like it is  about to lose its partnership with FSU over its snubbing of Al Lawson.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.