by The Florida Bar News
By investing himself in a young person’s education 25 years ago, Florida A&M University president Frederick Humphries has reaped big dividends for the new law school that FAMU intends to open in Orlando next fall.
Shirley Cunningham, a Kentucky attorney whom Humphries helped inspire 25 years ago, announced last week that he is donating $1 million to endow a professorship at the new law school. The endowment automatically will be matched by another $1 million in state money, providing enough annual income for the new law school to afford putting a marquee lawyer on its faculty from the start.
“What this gift will do is enable Dean (Percy) Luney to get a most significant professor of law, who I think will be able to not only attract outstanding students, but a person capable of generating funds,” Humphries said.
Initially, that professor will be Cunningham himself. He is managing partner of the Cunningham and Grundy law firm in Lexington, Ky., specializing in mass tort and class action law. His firm has represented class action clients who sued Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone over defective tires and American Home Products, the makers of the fenphen diet drug, among other high-profile cases.
He also taught trial law at the University of Kentucky.
Luney is currently hiring faculty and recruiting students. He expects to open with a few dozen first-year law students and 6-9 professors next fall in an office building at 1 N. Orange Ave. in downtown Orlando.
That will complete a dream that Humphries has pursued since he came to FAMU in 1985: a new law school to replace the one the state closed in 1968. Humphries plans to retire at the end of this year.
Humphries taught Cunningham about dreaming big in the mid-1970s, when both were at Tennessee State University. Humphries was hired in 1974 as a new, young president of the Nashville-based historically black university. Cunningham was an undergraduate student working in the president’s office. He struck Humphries as bright and promising, but under-aspiring.
“I was the son of a share cropper,” Cunningham said. “I guess I wanted to go back and share crop.”
Humphries preferred that Cunningham pursue bigger dreams. He convinced him to go to graduate school at Tennessee State, then onto law school at Kentucky.
— Reprinted with permission of The Florida Bar News.