The individuals who have served as FAMU’s president on a permanent or interim basis since Humphries’ retirement have been: Henry Lewis (January 2002-June 2002); Fred Gainous (July 2002-December 2004); Castell Bryant (January 2005-May 2007); Larry Robinson (May 2007-June 2007); James H. Ammons (July 2007-July 2012); and Larry Robinson (July 2012-present).
Ever since Humphries left, there have been two individuals who’ve served as the biggest sources of consistency at the university. They are Larry Robinson and Bill Jennings.
Robinson has been a champion for the faculty members who have led the fight to keep FAMU’s doors open over the last decade. The longest-serving trustee, Jennings, has been an ally of those who have brought constant harm to the university since 2001 and kept FAMU from having any form of stability in Lee Hall.
Jennings made sure to jump up in front of the news cameras and shake Robinson’s hand when the Board of Trustees confirmed his appointment as interim president on August 15th. But the two men have not have had a smooth relationship over the past 10 years because Robinson has refused to be an unquestioning yes-man for the Florida governor’s office like Jennings is.
But Jennings did not support Robinson in 2004 because he was not the preferred candidate of Jim Corbin, who was Gov. Jeb Bush’s top crony at FAMU. They both worked to give the job to Castell Bryant, a member of the Board of Governors. The two of them vigorously supported her interim presidency while she nearly ruined FAMU.
Jennings became more friendly with Robinson when Charlie Crist became governor back on January 2, 2007. Crist won 20 percent of black votes during the 2006 gubernatorial election and listened to the advice of FAMU support groups such as the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators that wanted to take the university in the right direction.
Crist positively embraced James H. Ammons, who was voted in as FAMU’s 10th president one month after the new governor took office. Jennings went along with where the political winds seemed to be blowing at the time and worked to mend fences with Robinson, who Ammons held in high respect. He supported Robinson’s appointment to lead FAMU on an interim basis after Castell stepped down in May of 2007.
Jennings quickly turned against Robinson once Rick Scott was elected governor in 2010. Scott began a quest to get control of the university presidency and sent Rufus Montgomery to FAMU as his top crony.
After Ammons announced his resignation in July following a long struggle against Scott, numerous trustees were told that the governor’s office would not be happy with a decision to tap Robinson to serve as the interim leader. Robinson was attacked for being too close to U.S. President Barack Obama and too committed to building research programs at FAMU.
Jennings supported Rufus at the July 16th teleconference when he tried to pressure the board to consider names other than Robinson’s. But he conceded that there weren’t enough votes to stop Robinson from getting the job on that day. He introduced a successful amendment to force Robinson’s appointment to undergo a final “confirmation vote” at the board’s next on-campus meeting. The move gave him and Rufus one last chance to try and get enough votes for an alternate interim presidential candidate who would be enthusiastically embraced by Scott.
But it didn’t work and Robinson received enough votes to hold onto the interim presidency, anyway.
FAMU might not be here today if it had not been for Robinson and the faculty members who have fought back against the negative consequences of actions by trustees like Jennings. Robinson and like-minded faculty members have done the hard work to address threats to FAMU’s good standing with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, grow the university’s academic programs, and bring millions in research money into the school.
FAMUans won against Jennings and Scott when Robinson was appointed to the interim presidency. But the past ten years have shown that these types of victories will always be short-lived unless Rattlers can rally in an effective manner to stop Jennings and other trustees who are more concerned about pleasing the governor’s office than looking out for FAMU.