FMU, South Florida’s only HBCU, being sued for discrimination

Florida Memorial University has seen a drastic dip in enrollment in recent years, prompting staff layoffs and the elimination of over a dozen degree programs 

Several tenured faculty members at Florida Memorial University are threatening to take legal action against the private school after being told they would be laid off at the end of the semester.

The professors say they are being pushed out because of their age, as reported by the Miami Herald. Four of the 10 professors facing layoffs are tenured and will soon be out of a job due to what FMU said was the closure of certain programs caused by financial pressures from low enrollment. 

(Adobe stock photo)

FMU has seen a drastic dip in enrollment in recent years, prompting staff layoffs and the elimination of over a dozen degree programs, according to the report. 

“My clients are prepared to sue not only the university but each of the Board members and the administration personally for the grossly negligent actions detailed in this letter,” labor lawyer Randy Fleischer, who’s representing the four academics, wrote in a Feb. 17 letter to South Florida’s only HBCU, per the Miami Herald.

Sharee Gilbert, FMU’s director of communications and marketing, responded to the professors’ allegations of discrimination in a March 14 statement emailed to the Herald

“There was no discriminatory intent, rather, all of the decisions made were legitimate, objective, and in the best interest of the University and its students,” she wrote. “There is no evidence of discrimination by FMU.”

Ten faculty members will be laid off effective May 14, and, per Gilbert’s email, “three are Black women (ages 64, 72, 80), two white men (ages 58, 69), two Black men (ages 68, 74), one Asian man (age 72) and two white women (ages 55, 88),” per the Herald. 

Seven programs in the School of Arts and Sciences were eliminated as well as three in the School of Business and six in the School of Education, according to the report. The university also cut 18 staff positions, including several that were vacant.

“The remaining faculty are a diverse group ranging in age from 28 to 83,” Gilbert wrote, noting that FMU employs 75 faculty members and 85% of them “are over 40 and nearly half of the faculty is over 60,” per the report. 

The staff being laid off are 55 and older. 

“The decision to terminate, tenured, senior faculty without cause and without legally required notice is an egregious violation of written approved policy and federal law and if the Board ignores this, they too will be violating their fiduciary duty to the institution,” Fleischer wrote.

“Decisions such as these are not easy to make — they are certainly decisions most businesses and organizations have had to make more recently,” Gilbert wrote in her email on Tuesday, per the report. “The decisions were a part of a data-driven process, which in turn created data-driven results and were not personal in any way.”

FMU was put on “probation for good cause” last summer for failing to comply with the standards of its accreditation agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The sanction was the result of the school’s financial difficulties and could lead to FMU having its accreditation revoked.

The SACSCOC board will reportedly make a decision on the case in June, at which time FMU will remain on “probation for good cause,” placed on “probation” for a year, or be cleared altogether.

TheGrio is now on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. Also, please download theGrio mobile apps today!