Graduation, Donation, Resignation: Just What Happened With Florida A&M and the Benefactor Who Wasn't?

Jason Getz

For once there is significant drama at a university that does not involve Palestinian protests – but it is no less intriguing. Florida A&M University recently held its graduation ceremony, and during the event, the keynote speaker surprised many and stirred national interest when he announced he would be making a record-breaking donation to the school. Since that surprise bequeathment, there has been shock, intrigue, and investigations — and now a resignation over the tumult.


On May 5, the commencement was held at FAMU, with Gregory Gerami as the speaker. The entrepreneur and owner of a farming enterprise in Texas, Batterson Farms, Gerami is also the CEO of the Isaac Batterson 7th Family Trust, from which the donation would emanate. The amount of $237 million was not only significant but would have set a new precedent: It would not only nearly triple FAMU’s current endowment but it would have stood as the highest donation ever granted to a historically black university.

Today, there is cause to be using the past tense in those verbs. Since the announcement turned heads that Saturday, there have been questions, and now the entire donation has been thrown into doubt. To start, during his speech, Gerami assured the crowd, “The money is in the bank,” but in actuality, it was not. As per the agreement with the school, the donation was in the form of millions of shares of his company stock, to be paid over a 10-year period. But far more questions have arisen.

A select few members of the school faculty had been aware of the donation but were bound to a non-disclosure agreement. (Details of the deal were obtained through a FOIA request.) Days after the ceremony, the school addressed concerns with a press release declaring the university officials performed proper diligence concerning the donation and that the university was in possession of stocks to the sum of the donated amount. Then shortly after, the school’s president, Larry Robinson, announced there was a freeze on the process of the donation.


The board members of the university were not made aware of this donation arrangement — due to the NDA — until the Sunday after the commencement. They expressed concerns over the parameters of the donation as well as the viability of converting the shares to liquid form for the school. The stocks are privately held, and thus, the true value is not apparent. Said to be worth nearly $16 a share, the fact that no outside party was brought in to determine a valuation means there is no means of knowing the true value — if there is any.

Gerami, whose past is veiled and the details of his farming enterprise are also in flux (it has been said the company has seven employees but over a thousand partnering workers in some capacity), has a past with sketchy donations. Last year, he pledged just under $100 million to Coastal Carolina University, but that arrangement dissipated following issues that sound similar to those experienced now by FAMU.

A recent meeting was held with the university's top names, and one of the signatories to the original donation agreement, Vice President for Advancement and the Executive Director of the FAMU Foundation Shawnta Friday-Stroud, has resigned over the matter


While the school has stepped away entirely from Gregory Gerami’s pledged donation there are still questions remaining. Board members remain concerned about how this transpired and more meetings are to be held to go over the parameters as well as address the internal mechanics of the university's decisions.


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