Humphries Set High Standards During His Tenure at FAMU
By St. Claire Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer
Dr. Frederick Humphries chuckled every time he had to answer questions about any of his many achievements when he was president at FAMU.
You know; the kinds of things that make his name resonate nationally. The list is long, but let’s just look at a few:
His recruiting efforts led to an all-time high enrollment at FAMU. The university attracted more than 650 National Achievement Scholars to tie schools like Yale and Stanford. Corporate America made frequent visits to the campus to recruit future employees. Student and faculty morale was through the roof.
And, let’s not forget how he made a broke FAMU athletic department that he inherited solvent with a $3 million surplus in its budget when he left in 2001.
It’s those types of achievements, in part, that make Humphries’ legacy. Clearly he has set a benchmark that makes him worthy of being among the seven former FAMU presidents who will be recognized during a fund-raising Legacy Banquet on Aug. 27 at the university’s Grand Ballroom.
Humphries’ leadership was constantly winning praise – like in 1997 when FAMU was selected as “College of the Year” by the TIME/Princeton Review.
“My goal in accepting the offer to be president of my alma mater,” Humphries said, “was to use every bit of the talent that I had to make FAMU the best that it could be.”
Indeed he did. But during the last decade since his departure, things began to change in every aspect of life at FAMU.
We’ve since been hearing all the reasons that students haven’t been showing up for basketball and football games. You know; like old times when Humphries was president at Florida A&M and there used to be a kind of electricity on campus.
During Humphries’ era the arena and stadium on campus consistently were filled with fans. There was a sort of vigor in everything on FAMU’s campus.
So much so that Humphries remembers the years that students from other universities and colleges would spend their spring break on FAMU’s campus.
“They came to catch the spirit,” Humphries said.
The students who attended FAMU were in demand, too. Take for instance the year that hundreds of companies came to the Civic Center to hold a job fair for FAMU students.
FAMU unequivocally had some of the best talent in the nation back then.
“People were excited because they knew we had really great students and they wanted to interact and they were happy about seeing the people from FAMU,” Humphries said.
Of course, none of Humphries’ achievements happened on a whim. He was strategic from Day 1. He started by introducing his motto, “Excellence with caring.”
It worked to perfection, as every department, student and faculty latched on to what their president believed.
“It was to try to instill in the people, all of us, that we could be extremely good,” he said. “And, to get rid of the notion that we couldn’t do things well.”
The examples of how he got things done and how much others around the country took notice are countless. One telling example was the time that Humphries met a dean from another HBCU on a flight.
He recalled discussing plans for an upcoming regional recruiting convention with his counterpart.
What happened next was telling.
The guy told me, ‘I’m going to FAMU,” he said. “I’m not going to that regional meeting. You can’t match FAMU for the kids we’re going to come in contact with.’ ”
Not to step on anyone’s toes, mind you, but not since George Gore, who served from 1950 to 1968, has there been a FAMU president with the passion and tenacity of Humphries. Incidentally, his tenure was the longest of any of the eight presidents that followed Gore. That’s not including current president Elmira Mangum who is in her second year.
Humphries is enjoying retirement nowadays, but he still serves on several committees and boards around the country.
In a couple of weeks he’ll be able to take one night to reflect on his tenure at FAMU. It’s an unexpected recognition that Humphries is seemingly humble to accept.
“I’m very happy and pleased that the group that’s doing this decided to honor living presidents,” he said. “I think that’s good and when it comes from the community in which the school is located that makes it even better. Being the president of Florida A&M is a great honor and it’s a lot of hard work, but you get joy and pain at the same time.”
He can now look forward to a night of joy for whatever pain he may have endured while being one of the most remarkable presidents that FAMU ever had.