Founded in 1879 in Live Oak, east of Tallahassee, the school moved to St. Augustine then, in 1968, to Miami, where it flourished for a while before mismanagement and market forces left it in the condition that Smith inherited.
Today the school is on the rebound. Since Smith arrived, student enrollment has jumped 70% to 2,260. The percentage of faculty members holding a doctorate or other terminal degree is up from 30% to 75%. Smith, a Chicago native and one-time professional baseball player, is modest about the school's changing fortunes. "The framework for the future of this college was always in place," says Smith, 70. "We just needed to put all the pieces together."
Another piece will fall into place later this summer when the Baptist-affiliated school opens its first satellite campus in Broward County. (Four other satellite campuses operate in Miami-Dade.) And at the school's main campus in north Miami-Dade, an unprecedented building program is under way that will include a performing arts center, a dormitory and at least two new classroom buildings.
Smith's vision for the north Miami-Dade school was a reaffirmation of the traditional values of historically black colleges. While many black colleges across the U.S. are altering their mission, Florida Memorial College is embracing its roots -- open admissions, close faculty/student interaction, mentoring and a campus life that encourages social and political engagement.
Despite annual tuition that tops $13,000, Smith insists the market is strong for such schools, particularly among minorities not academically or emotionally prepared for college life elsewhere.
"If it wasn't for colleges like Florida Memorial, a lot of young people would not have an opportunity to attend college," says Smith, pointing to himself -- a graduate of North Carolina A&T State University -- as an example. "I wasn't a great student in high school."
Among Smith's first moves was to install a tenure system -- the school's first -- helping to reduce faculty turnover by rewarding those who pursued doctorates. Smith enlisted alumni to recruit students.
The school's finances have been stabilized thanks to a $30-million capital campaign. Education, business and aviation are its strongest programs. A graduate education program is being launched in January.
With Miami's large minority population and steady immigration from the predominately black Caribbean nations, Smith believes Florida Memorial should have no shortage of students.
"Schools like ours need to give all students the benefit of the doubt," he says. "We need to provide the opportunity for these young people to pursue their dreams. If we don't, who will?"
IN THE NEWS
Miami -- The Dante B. Fascell Port of Miami-Dade reported an increase in its cargo figures and cruise passenger count. From October 2002 to March 2003, the island port posted a 12.4% increase in its cruise business, with 2.21 million vacationers traveling the high seas. Cargo tonnage rose 10.9% over the previous year, with 4.67 million tons moving through the port.
California-based software maker Symantec has agreed to acquire Miami's Nexland (OTC-NXLD.OB) for about $20 million in cash. Nexland, which produces routers and modems for business applications, employs 31 at its Miami headquarters but may consolidate some operations after the acquisition.
Miami Beach -- City commissioners have approved a controversial ordinance banning panhandlers from prime tourist areas such as Ocean Drive and Lincoln Road. Civil rights groups and advocates for the homeless may sue. The ordinance is part of a citywide crackdown on public nuisances: Last spring, police began citing club owners and motorists under newly enacted noise ordinances.
Spanish-language portal YupiMSN will move its headquarters from Miami Beach to Redmond, Wash., to be close to its part-owner, Microsoft. The 6-year-old company, which raised a staggering $110 million in private capital, came to symbolize Miami's role in the late 1990s internet boom. The company employs about 30 (down from 250 in 2000). All will be offered transfers, the company says.
Recording industry mogul Chris Blackwell -- one of the early visionaries who helped transform South Beach into an international playground and tourist destination -- has announced he will sell six of his seven properties on Miami Beach. Total asking price: About $60 million.
Miami-Dade -- Faced with mounting public pressure and a loss of confidence from Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas, County Manager Steve Shiver abruptly resigned. He will be replaced by George Burgess, a veteran county administrator who most recently served as chief financial officer of the Miami-Dade public school system. The 37-year-old Shiver, a former mayor of Homestead, arrived on the job two years ago with little managerial experience. Critics routinely labeled him a pawn of lobbyists. He fell from favor with Penelas, who hand-picked him, following last fall's voting problems and as a result of mounting shortfalls in the county's $5-billion budget.
The cost of living in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area for the year that ended in April rose 3.2%, according to Consumer Price Index figures. The jump was the largest increase among U.S. metropolitan areas. The national average was 2.2%.
Miami-Dade's property tax rolls jumped 11.3% this year, reaching $129 billion, according to the county appraiser's office. Officials attribute the increase to new construction and a hot real estate market.
Florida International University has opened the Dr. Robert R. Stempel School of Public Health, consolidating existing programs in the College of Health and Urban Affairs and elsewhere in the university.
Monroe County -- Olympus Real Estate Partners has sold its venerable Cheeca Lodge & Spa to Johnson Resort Properties and The Falor Cos. The 203-room oceanfront resort was opened in 1946; in 1987, it underwent a $33-million renovation. Each year the upscale resort hosts the George Bush Sr./Cheeca Lodge Charity Bonefish Tournament.
Opa-Locka -- In a blow to the marine manufacturing industry, Opa-Locka-based Mako Marine has announced it has accepted an incentive package to relocate to tiny Rutherford County in North Carolina. Mako, a maker of center-console recreational fishing boats, was founded in Miami in 1966. It is now owned by Missouri-based Tracker Marine Group. Company executives say only a few of Mako's 80 employees will be offered transfers.
MIAMI-DADE -- Miami-Dade could gain more than 89,000 direct and indirect jobs if it secures the permanent headquarters -- known as the secretariat -- of the future Free Trade Area of the Americas, according to a report by Enterprise Florida. The statewide economic impact generated by the headquarters would top $13.5 billion. Atlanta; Panama City, Panama; Port-of-Spain, Trinidad; and Puebla, Mexico, also are bidding on the secretariat. Some local officials say Miami-Dade is not doing enough to promote its bid.