Humphries, Frederick 1935–
Frederick Humphries 1935–
A commitment to ensuring the success of historically black colleges has placed Frederick S. Humphries among the leaders in providing greater educational and economic opportunities for African Americans. From his early years as a private tutor in science and mathematics in the late 1950s and early 1960s to his presidency at Florida A & M University, Humphries has been dedicated to the advancement of ethnic minorities. He has displayed an impassioned concern for the specific needs of these individuals, many of whom are burdened by a history of discrimination and socioeconomic depression. In a 1971 report describing the development of an innovative curriculum program for a number of black colleges, Humphries wrote, “We have paid attention to enhancing the perceived strengths of students rather than validating the historical experiences of their life in a racist society.” This emphasis on students’ strengths would continue to serve as the core of Humphries’ philosophy and numerous professional initiatives.
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Florida A & M University in 1957—graduating magna cum laude—Humphries served for two years as a second lieutenant for the U.S. Army Security Agency. He spent the next five years as an academic tutor while working on his Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh, which he completed in 1964. Humphries then obtained an associate professorship in chemistry at Florida A & M, a position he would hold for two years. After spending the next two years as an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Minnesota, Humphries returned to Florida A & M in 1967 as a full professor. It was at this time that Humphries undertook his first program director position, the first in a chain that would ultimately culminate in his acceptance of the presidency of Tennessee State University in 1974.
Humphries’ first job as a program director placed him in charge of the Thirteen-College Curriculum Program (TCCP), which initially involved 13 historically black colleges—although several others joined later. It was described by Humphries and his co-authors in a 1972 progress report—subtitled, “A Major Curriculum
At a Glance…
Born December 26, 1935, in Apalachicola, FL; son of Minnie Henry Humphries and Thornton Humphries, Sr.; married Antoinette McTurner, August 20, 1960; children: Frederick S., Jr., Robin Tanya, Laurence Anthony. Education: Florida A&M University, B.S. (magna cum laude), chemistry, 1957; University of Pittsburgh, Ph.D., physical chemistry, 1964.
Career: U.S., Army Security Agency, second lieutenant, 1957–59; private tutor, science and mathematics, 1959–64; Florida A&M University, associate professor of chemistry, 1964–66; University of Minnesota, assistant professor of chemistry, 1966–67; Florida A&M University, professor of chemistry, 1967–68, program director of Thirteen-College Curriculum Program, 1967–68; Institute for Services to Education, program director of Thirteen-College Curriculum Program and Summer Conference, 1968–74, Knoxville College Study of Science Capability of Black Colleges, 1972–74, Two-Universities Graduate Program in Science, 1973–74; Tennessee State University, president, 1974–85; Florida A & M University, president, 1985–.
Awards: Distinguished Alumnus Award, University of Pittsburgh, 1986; Thurgood Marshall Educational Achievement Award, Johnson Publishing Company, 1990; Educator of the Year, National Society of Black Engineers, 1998; Floridian of the Year, Orlando Sentinel, 1998.
Member: White House Advisory Committee on Historically Black Colleges and Universities; State Board of Education Advisory Committee on the Education of Blacks in FL; bd. of dirs. for the Natl. Assn. of Equal Opportunity, National Merit Scholarship Corporation, Natl. Assn. of State Univs. and Land Grant Colleges.
Addresses: Home—1814 S. Adams Street, Tallahassee, FL. Office —Office of the President, Florida A&M University, Suite 401, Lee Hall, Tallahassee, FL 32307.
Effort to Reduce Attrition Among Black College Students”—as “a massive, joint effort … to develop active, relevant, and workable educational programs for students enrolled in predominantly black colleges.” The TCCP originated as a sort of rebuttal to the predominant argument at the time that black colleges would only begin to thrive if they worked to emulate traditionally white institutions—that is, by bringing on board more credentialed faculty and raising standards for admission. The Institute for Services to Education (ISE), however, vigorously countered that widely held assumption by insisting that black colleges faced different problems than did predominantly white institutions, and that these problems demanded unique solutions that the black colleges themselves must devise. The TCCP was created to discover those solutions.
Humphries’ 1971 report on the TCCP emphasized its degree of departure from traditional curriculum reform and included a list of the particular problems facing African Americans with respect to higher education. Among those identified were pervasive poverty, limited parental education, large families, and absent fathers. Humphries also criticized the abysmal state of public secondary education for blacks. Adamant in his conviction that social forces were the primary culprit in hindering African American educational progress, Humphries wrote, “The students do have a drive to succeed. They have survived high school and their grade performance in high school … indicates their willingness to attempt to meet proscribed standards of learning. They are not psychologically aberrant, but they do reflect the effect of a history of unequal opportunity and discrimination.”
It was this acute awareness of the obstacles confronting African American students on the part of Humphries and his colleagues that permitted the development of a program ultimately judged by its founders to be a success. Program participants showed marked improvements over their non-participating counterparts in eight categories considered quantifiable, including retention, performance, and general verbal abilities and skills. All of this was accomplished by a reliance on a few specific assumptions: students are better off in a “student-centered academic environment;” teachers should be “student guides” rather than assuming themselves to be “sources of all worth-while knowledge;” and teachers will be “more creative and responsive to student needs” when they are “freed from the structures of syllabi and rigid course content.”
Humphries took pride in the fact that these assumptions were included in the curricula of the participating colleges and were not simply detached pieces of administrative “speculation” or “fantasy.” Perhaps one of the most telling achievements of the program was, as described by Humphries in the 1971 report, its production of “scientists at a percentage rate equal to the national norm,” an event that occurred upon the graduation of the very first participating student class. Prior to this, the black colleges graduated scientists and mathematicians at approximately only half that rate.
A man of science himself, Humphries took a particular interest in the achievements of African Americans in science—more specifically in the conspicuous lack of African American science students. In a paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston in 1976, Humphries identified science and engineering as the areas most critically deficient in representation of African Americans. He discussed the discouraging impact of high school guidance counselors on the career aspirations of African American students, pointing out that many counselors routinely pushed these students away from science. Humphries attributed this tendency to “the supposition that Blacks do not have the requisite mental capabilities to conquer the disciplines of science and engineering.”
Humphries sought to reverse this trend through curriculum reforms. He strove to make science accessible to African American students who, as a group, tended to rate themselves poorly in self-assessments of math and science skills. Humphries emphasized the importance of the role of black colleges in preparing their students for careers in the sciences, noting that African American students attending black colleges were more likely to aspire to graduate degrees than their peers attending traditionally white institutions.
Humphries continued his role as a staunch advocate for equity in education while serving as president of Tennessee State University. In a 1983 paper entitled “Academic Standards and the Student-Athlete,” presented at the College Board Annual Forum in Dallas, Humphries echoed the strong criticism directed by other presidents of black colleges toward the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). The NCAA had put forth Proposition 48, an initiative that would require incoming college athletes to have received minimum scores of 700 or composite scores of 15 on the SAT and ACT college entrance exams, respectively—in addition to having maintained a minimum grade point average of 2.00 in a select set of high school courses. As pointed out by Humphries and others, the requirements of Proposition 48 would exclude from first-year eligibility nearly twice as many black athletes as white.
Grambling University President Joseph B. Johnson charged in Jet Magazine in 1986 that the new rules constituted “academic hypocrisy.” Humphries alluded to this same accusation in his 1983 paper, pointing out that the new standards, while claiming to better ensure academic competitiveness of athletes at their respective institutions, did not in fact provide any assurances toward this end. The general admission standards at the most powerful institutions in the NCAA tended to be significantly higher than those established by Proposition 48. In light of this, Humphries wrote, “What we ought to insist on is for our institutions to recruit athletes who have the same promise of graduation as all other admitted students to our institutions.”
Humphries was highly suspicious of the motives behind Proposition 48, charging that academic requirements only became an issue after the most powerful NCAA institutions had gained control over the television revenue from the major networks. Not wanting to see African American athletes denied access to an education that they would not likely be able to obtain without athletic scholarships, Humphries insisted that it was incumbent on the institutions to see to it that their athletes were fully supported academically. So, as an alternative to the new NCAA rules—which Humphries perceived as “blaming the victim”—he proposed, however in vain, that the millions of dollars of television revenue be used to establish academic support for athletes at all Division I institutions.
Humphries left Tennessee State in 1985 to serve as president of his undergraduate alma mater, Florida A & M, having received unanimous approval from the Florida Board of Regents. There he worked diligently to bring together education and corporate America in such a way as to make his graduates among the most sought after in the nation. In 1992, Humphries realized his goal of attracting more National Achievement Scholars, the nation’s top African American students, to Florida A & M than any other institution. He was able to repeat this accomplishment in 1995 and 1997.
Humphries has attributed Florida A & M’s ability to attract National Achievement Scholars to the number of scholarships offered by the university, the academic programs in place, and the guidance Florida A & M students receive toward accomplishing their career goals. Supplementing these attractions, however, has been Humphries’ own creative flair. He has been known to call National Achievement Scholars personally and offer them full scholarships on the spot. Revealing once again his commitment to increasing the number and quality of opportunities for minorities, Humphries stated in Jet magazine in 1996, “We have told these students if they stay here and get good grades, we will send them to graduate school—all expenses paid.…We are not only concerned about their undergraduate education, but their future.”
In addition to his success in recruiting top African American scholars, Humphries has been credited with dramatically recreating Florida A & M and elevating its status as an institution of higher learning. The average SAT score rose from 900 to 1029 between 1985—when Humphries assumed leadership of the university—and 1998, putting Florida A & M slightly above the national average in SAT scores and considerably above the average for African Americans. Florida A & M has also experienced the satisfaction of watching its enrollment more than double under Humphries’ leadership. Furthermore, as reported in Jet, the innovative president also created international opportunities for his faculty and students in 1994 by signing an “historic agreement with institutions in the People’s Republic of China.”
Humphries has been recognized as a prominent leader both in minority communities and society at large, as evidenced by the numerous honors of distinction he has received and his staggering number of educational, professional, and community affiliations. Over the course of his professional life, his dedication to the plight and progress of black institutions has never waned. In a 1976 paper, he wrote, “In the historically Black college is found a greater sensitivity to the problems of the education of the disaffected in our society. There is a propensity for change; there is a willingness to experiment; and there is a lesser holding on to tradition.” Always operating from this perspective, Humphries was able to produce tangible results numerous times throughout his career. Nearly 20 years after that 1976 statement, in a convocation speech on the history of African Americans in higher education—printed in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education —Humphries stated proudly, “When you look back into history and you ask who produced the black PhD’s, the doctors and the lawyers for this larger society, the answer is that the largest number of black professionals came from black colleges.”
Fortune, July 6, 1998, pp. 136–37.
Jet, April 22, 1985, p. 32; February 3, 1986, p. 47; July 18, 1994, p. 23; February 26, 1996, p. 8.
Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 1995, p. 57.
“Academic Standards and the Student-Athlete,” Frederick S. Humphries, paper presented at the Annual Forum of the College Board, Dallas, 1983.
“Black Colleges—A National Resource for the Training of Minority Scientific and Engineering Manpower,” Frederick S. Humphries, paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Boston, 1976.
“Condensed Biographical Sketch for Dr. Frederick S. Humphries,” Florida A & M University, 1998.
“Institutional Methods for Developing Talent in Black College Students: The Thirteen-College Curriculum Program,” Fredericks. Humphries, 1971.
“Thirteen-College Curriculum Program Progress Report: 1967–1972. A Major Curriculum Effort to Reduce Attrition Among Black College Students,” Frederick S. Humphries, J. Thomas Parmeter, Joseph Turner, 1972.
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