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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Florida A&M University’s $237 Million Donation Faces Scrutiny And Calls For Transparency

Last Saturday, a pioneering farming organization, The Issac Batterson 7th Family Trust, and their CEO, Gregory Gerami, made a monumental contribution to Florida A&M’s resources.

The organization gifted a staggering $237.75 million award to FAMU’s Foundation, more than double the university’s total endowment of $121 million. This donation is also the largest single donation ever made to an HBCU.

However, the nearly quarter-billion-dollar donation has come under scrutiny from all sides, with some critics now calling for transparency regarding the details of the donation.


Gregory Gerami, the 30-year-old hemp farmer, investor, and entrepreneur drew national spotlight with his gift, which appears to be both the largest in history at FAMU and any of the other 100-plus historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, in the country.

According to an article published by Education News Flash, Jerell Blakely expressed his belief that FAMU had been deceived by Gerami’s sizeable donation. Blakely stated that if the donation was found to be a scam, the institution’s leadership should resign due to a “massive lack of vetting.”

“It is hard to avoid the feeling that this “donation” will go down as one of the biggest scams in higher education history. If the money is indeed in the bank, I wonder if that will be shown to be false in a few days? If the money is there without issue, then I’m wrong and the university has a foundation for great prosperity by way of an ultra rich, unknown business tycoon who seems to care little about how he or his business would benefit from such a bold philanthropic effort. But if this turns out to be a scam, the entire university leadership should resign for a massive lack of vetting.”

Donor and CEO Gregory Gerami says he doesn’t understand the skepticism about the gift.

“The stocks have been held by the university for over a month now, so I don’t know where the confusion or the skepticism would be since it’s already in a financial account with the university,” Gerami said.

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Gerami is also a pioneer in producing and selling high-quality hemp seeds. He says he did not attend FAMU or graduate from college, but he started off his career by building a landscaping business and has also worked in property management and economic development consulting before establishing his farming company.

But little is known about Gerami, his business, or the Issac Batterson 7th Family Trust that put up the money. They have a remarkably small online footprint, and news that his $95 million “transformational” planned gift to Coastal Carolina University fell through last year has further fueled alumni concerns.

Germani cited the recent claims as “incorrect and damaging.”

“This is a main example why I don’t have an internet presence, nor do I care to have one,” Gerami said of the online skepticism. “People take things out of context. They run and they damage and hurt people with information that’s incorrect and just not appropriate.”

Florida A&M University officials released a statement, acknowledging their awareness of the skepticism around the donation, but let Gerami do most of the talking due to a non-disclosure agreement. 

“We are fully aware of the skepticism that sometimes comes with such a large gift,” the university said in the statement. “As expected, some individuals in the public are and will continue researching Mr. Gerami.

“Please know that FAMU has done its due diligence when it comes to this matter. Additionally, Mr. Gerami has and continues to do his own due diligence on things that have been and are happening at FAMU.”

Gregory Gerami and FAMU President, Larry Robinson during FAMU 2024 Commencement.

Gerami said FAMU has become like family and is the designated university to which he chooses to expand his charitable giving efforts.

“When we look at our legacy and our business — and as I exit out of my business, which should happen in the next couple of years — FAMU is the designated spot as I expand on charitable giving in research,” Gerami said. “I’ve gotten to know the folks at FAMU really well and I consider them like family.

Gerami says the multi-million-dollar gift to FAMU is the first donation he has ever made at that level.

The scrutiny over the donation is not only from outsiders but also from FAMU officials and affiliates.

FAMU Board of Trustees Vice Chair Deveron Gibbons. via Glenn Beil

The vice chair of Florida A&M University’s Board of Trustees called on FAMU President Larry Robinson and board chair Kristin Harper to convene a public “emergency” meeting for the university community to learn more about a recent $237 million donation.

“As Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees, I have a responsibility to safeguard the integrity of the university I cherish, but I have deep concerns that this process is moving too quickly to embrace a gift without proper scrutiny.”

“A donation of this nature requires the highest degree of transparency and inquiry, and to this point that has not occurred,” Florida A&M University Board of Trustees Vice ChaiDeveron Gibbons said in a Tuesday statement.

“As Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees, I have a responsibility to safeguard the integrity of the university I cherish, but I have deep concerns that this process is moving too quickly to embrace a gift without proper scrutiny.”

Gibbons says he has been getting calls from the university’s alumni across the country with similar concerns about the $237 million gift’s validity, and he hopes a public board meeting will allow them to ask questions.

“The whole thing is a little weird in terms of how it has all played out,” Gibbons said. “It might be best for us to be very transparent as a university to make sure that we give out all the available information that we can get to the folks in the community and our constituents.”

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