What began as a “noble experiment” was never an easy alliance. While the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering has achieved far more than many colleges many times its size, as the college has grown and changed, adjustments and concessions need to be made to counter the constant challenge of answering to two distinctly different universities.
Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University and Florida State University stand as two of the three oldest institutions of higher education in the state of Florida, and FSU is the oldest continuous campus of higher education in the state. The two institutions have prevailed as centers of advancement and achievement for students, yet their very existence echoed the difficult racial struggles of the times.
In 1887, FAMU was created because African-Americans were not permitted to attend the then West Florida Seminary, located less than a mile away. FSU was integrated in 1962, and in 1967 the Florida Senate recommended a merger of FAMU and FSU for financial reasons. But this proposal ignored the distinctiveness of the HBCU, its history, accomplishments and purpose.
Also in the 1960s came the closing of the FAMU Law School, established in 1949. The state cited financial reasons for closing the school, but only a few years later, granted a law program at FSU. The turn of events created much bitterness and tension between the two schools, and left FAMU with little confidence in the state government’s ability to protect its interests and identity.
By 1959, the physics department at FSU had spawned many new scientific programs, including the Department of Engineering Science. By 1972, though, economic concerns coupled with space program cutbacks and a surplus of engineers in Florida led FSU to eliminate the engineering program. In 1976, FAMU established a new College of Science and Technology with a division of industrial and engineering technology. By the late 1970s studies showed that engineering education in Florida needed boosting and both FAMU and FSU were eager to help. Between 1981-1982, both FAMU and FSU submitted proposals to the Board of Regents for engineering programs. Neither proposal was accepted, and the legislature could not avoid the obvious conflict of the universities’ proximity to each other and the tensions that would arise if one were chosen over the other. Many saw the great potential in two universities like FAMU and FSU collaborating. Both universities soon understood that if they wanted engineering, they must work together.
"I feel that what we created was a FAMU-FSU school that took the best of both and put them together to form a strong program...?
—HERB MORGAN, FLORIDA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES (1974-1986)
These two schools had the desire and resources to create a successful engineering program, but there was much political opposition and the road to success was paved with obstacles and cynicism. Both the FSU president and the FAMU president were committed to a joint college idea, and ultimately oversaw the formation of the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. Some at FAMU felt threatened by the move, seeing it as a possible first step to dissolving the university and having all its programs and students absorbed by FSU. Additionally, issues regarding our nation’s history of racial unrest left many hesitant about whether a joint college could be successful. The merging of two institutional missions was a challenge from the beginning and continues even today.
Since the college’s creation in 1982, there have been several public discussions about breaking the school apart, mainly due to the challenges of joint administration. The first came as early as 1985-1986, when the universities submitted different proposals for changes in the academic programs and administration without informing each other. In 1987, it was clear that the college wasn’t operating as fully joint, but FAMU’s Humphries freely admitted it was to protect their interest in the college. In 2008, the universities again mulled a split, and in 2014 then-Sen. John Thrasher formally proposed a divorce in the legislature. (Later that year he became FSU president.) By 2015, the legislature had studied the issue and renewed its commitment to the joint college model with a new administrative agreement, ratified in 2018.