FAMU Trustees initiates independent investigation into $237 million donation

by | May 15, 2024

The Florida A&M University Board of Trustees has approved the hiring of an external firm to investigate the circumstances surrounding a $237 million donation received during the Spring commencement ceremony, following concerns about the donor’s history of failed pledges.

The Florida A&M University (FAMU) Board of Trustees on Wednesday approved a motion to hire an external firm to investigate a $237 million donation received during the Spring commencement ceremony.

The board unanimously agreed to bring in an independent firm to determine the facts surrounding the donation, audit and analyze the university’s processes, policies, and financial controls, and provide recommendations in a written report. The firm will also provide regular updates to the board based on an established timeline.

“It is my opinion that we need someone who is completely free of involvement with the university to conduct an outside investigation,” said Trustee Belvin Perry Jr.

Trustee Craig Reed concurrently noted that while some information was available, the board did not have a complete understanding of the donation and needed a thorough and transparent investigation.

During the meeting, FAMU President Larry Robinson accepted responsibility for any procedural errors and the subsequent fallout from the donation announcement.

“I wanted it to be real and ignored the warning signs along the way,” he said.

Prior to the meeting, Dr. Shawnta Friday-Stroud, Vice President for University Advancement and executive director of the FAMU Foundation, resigned from her position.

“Earlier today, Dr. Shawnta Friday-Stroud tendered her resignation from her position as VP for Advancement,” said Robinson in a prepared statement that was shared by Rattler Blog on X. “After careful consideration, I accepted her resignation. Dr. Friday-Stroud will return to serve as the Dean of the School of Business and Industry.”

FAMU received a landmark $237 million donation earlier this month from the Issac Batterson 7th Family Trust and its CEO Gregory Gerami during its spring commencement ceremony.

The gift would have ranked among the largest single contributions to a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) and doubled FAMU’s current endowment. Presented by Gerami, who also served as commencement speaker, the purported funds were intended to enhance FAMU’s educational, athletic, and facility developments.

In its announcement of the donation, FAMU wrote that Gerami, who is in his early thirties, formed Batterson Farms Corp., a San Antonio, Texas, based hydroponic farming and hemp plastic company that produces bioplastics and organic products year-round, grown locally by Batterson and farmers.

According to the university, he first reached out to the FAMU Office of University Advancement’s Audrey Simmons Smith In fall 2023 about making a sizable donation.

The donation came under scrutiny when it was discovered that Gerami had a history of failed pledges. In 2020, he promised $95 million to Coastal Carolina University, but the deal fell through, leading the university to cut ties with him. Upon the discovery, it prompted FAMU’s Board of Trustees to pause the gift and initiate an investigation, culminating in Wednesday’s emergency meeting.


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