TALLAHASSEE — Florida A&M University has been taken off the probation imposed a year ago in the wake of a marching band member’s hazing death, ending the threat of a serious blow to the school’s academic reputation.
A regional accrediting organization voted Tuesday to lift the sanction after the university worked to fix a number of problems, which means the state’s only publicly run historically black college will not lose its accreditation. Students at unaccredited schools are not eligible for federal financial aid.
Interim FAMU President Larry Robinson said a “dark cloud” had been lifted off the school, which has seen its enrollment drop amid the fallout from Robert Champion’s death.
“It’s the best possible outcome that could have happened for this university,” Robinson said.
Last December, the Southern Association of College and Schools Commission on Colleges placed FAMU on probation and gave the school a year to fix problems.
It was the November 2011 death of Champion, a member of the school’s famed Marching 100 band, that triggered the review by the organization. The accrediting body faulted the university on several fronts, including the integrity of the institution because a former top auditor submitted false audit summaries to its board of trustees.
FAMU also was asked about the safety of its students in the wake of Champion’s death. Additionally, the accrediting body also cited lax financial oversight after state investigators concluded that the university did not keep track of expenses and finances for the band.
Robinson said a year ago that he was convinced the university had already taken many steps to address problems identified by the organization. The university made sweeping changes after Champion’s death, including enacting a zero-tolerance policy for hazing and placing new rules on the Marching 100. The band wasn’t allowed to start performing again until this fall.
A committee that visited FAMU’s campus this fall concluded the university made progress in dealing with problems at the school. But that report cautioned it was unclear if improvements would remain once a new president is named. FAMU still has not chosen a permanent replacement to James Ammons after he abruptly resigned amid the fallout after Champion’s death.
Robinson said Tuesday that he was confident that those remedies had been institutionalized and embraced by school trustees and would remain in place regardless of who becomes the next president.
This is the second time in the past decade that FAMU has been threatened with the loss of accreditation. In 2007, the university was placed on probation for a series of rule violations, most resulting from FAMU’s inability to account for millions of dollars of inventory and some contractual arrangements made without proper approval.