The time has come for an intervention. Florida Memorial University and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) may want to downplay the school’s recent placement on accreditation probation, but this is about as serious as it gets.
It’s a delicate matter. Students will shy away from considering FMU out of fear that their degree may not be worth much if accreditation is pulled, but increased enrollment is paramount for the university to pull away from the brink.
A slick new recruitment video on the home page of FMUniv.edu is high on spirit and low on substance – appealing to students interested in sports, fraternities and sororities, and the school's proximity to South Beach. I would argue that’s not very inspiring to parents who prize academic success over partying.
It’s pretty clear that South Florida’s only HBCU is in need of rescuing and the current leadership may not be up to the task.
Make no mistake, The Miami Times would love nothing more than to see FMU return to its glory days, when the student body approached 2,000 instead of the current rumored number below 500. The university refuses to reveal the true enrollment figure.
Too many of South Florida's Black leaders have graduated from FMU to see it fail. Memorable alumni include Barrington Irving, who was the first Black person and youngest pilot to fly solo around the world in 2007. Memorable faculty include John Rosamond Johnson, who wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing” with his brother, James Weldon Johnson, in 1900. In 1919, the NAACP declared the song the “Negro National Anthem.” This is the rich history FMU possesses that deserves to live on in future generations.
In the last year, The Times has published numerous stories about FMU ranging from the mismanagement of COVID-19 on campus to the sexual harassment of students and faculty, as well as intimidation, threats and retaliation against whistleblowers and more. We publish these stories not because we want to tear FMU down, but because only the truth will set FMU free.
More transparency is needed, not more secrecy. For FMU to survive and thrive a major housecleaning is in order. A petition surfaced over the holiday weekend asking trustees to replace the university president. It’s probably a good idea. Only someone from the outside will likely have the courage to make the bold, wholesale changes necessary to pull off a turnaround. It’s also time for our community’s most powerful Black elders and leaders to step up, demand change and help make it. When your house is on fire and the flames are shooting through the roof, you can’t put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
Some may ask, is FMU really worth saving? In a post-Jim Crow, integrated society, a few might say it isn’t. HBCUs were established after the Civil War and predominantly in Southern states because traditional white colleges wouldn’t admit Black students. Times have changed, but not enough. In a country still rife with inequality and injustices and a growing Black Lives Matter movement, many more will certainly agree that HBCUs like FMU have become more important than ever. They are vital in the continued struggle for civil rights, in the education of our future Black leaders, in the preservation of Black culture and in the development of “a more perfect union.”
It’s time for FMU to live up to its storied history, straighten up and be the beacon of hope it needs to be, instead of allowing itself to be destroyed by mediocrity, poison apples, bad judgment and failed leadership.
Emily Cardenas is the executive editor of The Miami Times. She previously worked as a producer at WTXF in Philadelphia and at WSCV, WFOR and WPLG in Miami.