We are so fortunate

Larry Robinson

As we prepare to celebrate the coming of a new year, let us first give thanks that we made it through 2020 and give prayers for those not so fortunate.  The fact that we are privileged to witness yet another day illuminated by Florida A&M University’s Eternal Flame is a testament to the divine grace bestowed upon us from on high.  We are the keepers of the flame and guardians of our future.  Together we will continue the virtuous work of this institution — changing lives, demystifying the unknown and healing the divisions and disparities that work contrary to the principles for which we stand.  

This past year helped us appreciate so much that we often take for granted or did not know.  We witnessed the courage of health care workers as they fearlessly took on an invisible and vicious plague that shook us to our core. FAMU faculty, staff and students stepped in to serve in this epic battle by volunteering their time and expertise in service to others. They worked as contact tracers, established new research initiatives and donated ventilators and personal protective equipment to help confront the scourge. Our team developed an elaborate framework that allowed the University to operate in this new normal, while protecting the safety and well-being of the “FAMULY.”     

In collaboration with the Florida Department of Health, the Florida Division of Emergency Management, the Bond Community Health Center, and many others, FAMU has hosted a COVID-19 test site on campus since the early stages of the pandemic. While there were no thrilling victories by our football team and mesmerizing performances by the Marching “100” at Bragg Memorial Stadium this season, a greater purpose was served as indicated by the more than 155,000 tests administered at the site since April 25.  

To ensure the integrity of our academic programs and provide opportunities for our students’ success, our faculty and staff made a remarkable transformation in the modes of delivery of instruction and services. It was necessary to become more proficient in non-traditional teaching modalities as a new nomenclature became commonplace – virtual, remote, hybrid, high-flex and “screen sharing.” We came face to face with the reality that the bridge across the digital divide is far from complete.  However, thanks to the generosity of alumni, friends and supporters hundreds of laptops, portable cameras and “hot spot” devices were procured and extensive training was provided to help narrow the gap.

The arrival of federal stimulus funds was critical.  These resources helped us enhance the services needed to operate and provide much needed financial support for our students.  We sincerely thank those in our nation’s capital who made this possible and commend them as well for the latest round of stimulus relief that will allow us to continue to educate future leaders.  

While we adopted new modes of instruction and operation, we kept our place in the world.  Our Board of Trustees must be given credit for adopting rigorous performance expectations and providing the complementary support that kept us focused on goals that truly advance our mission. Throughout the pandemic the board has been a source of inspiration realizing the true nature of the challenges we face.   

The social unrest across the nation cannot go unrecognized.  True to our traditions, FAMU students organized and joined peaceful protests expressing their recognition that we remain far from the “promised land.” Students sought to increase participation in the political process by leading voter-registration drives.  Alumni across the nation, elected and otherwise, spoke up about the injustices that take the lives of innocent persons of color and rip at the fabric of life for all of us.   

Our work as an institution of higher education did not go unrecognized.  The University continues to receive accolades into 2020. We attained our highest performance-based funding model score ever in the Florida State University System.  We moved up in national rankings, most notably the U.S. News & World Report 2021 Best Colleges ranking of Top Public Universities, to number 117, from number 123 a year ago. We are again the highest ranked public HBCU in this category. The FAMU-FSU College of Engineering earned a spot on the U.S. News & World Report badge-eligible list, ranking 69th among the 206 Best Undergraduate Engineering school offering doctorate degrees. The joint engineering school is ranked second in the state of Florida and serves as a new model for diversity for other institutions to follow.  Of all of our accomplishments, I am perhaps most proud of FAMU’s No. 20 ranking in the U.S. News & World Report Social Mobility Index.  

These are all important measures of success, but our best outcomes are yet to come.  I am thrilled with alumni who have reached unimaginable plateaus as corporate and community leaders, excelled as elected officials and public servants, as well as those who served as loyal unsung heroes and continue to support the “College of Love and Charity.” Their contributions and tenacity helped drive our response to the challenges of 2020 and will propel us into an even more prosperous future. FAMU remains “dedicated to the advancement of knowledge, resolution of complex issues and the empowerment of citizens and communities.”  

We are so fortunate to be able to wish all our family, friends and supporters a blessed New Year.  

Larry Robinson, Ph.D. is president of Florida A&M University