judge approves famu students’ state funding lawsuit alleging racial discrimination
On Thursday, a federal judge allowed a lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis and education officials alleging racial discrimination in funding and management of Florida A&M University, the state’s only public historical Black university, to proceed.
Judge Robert Hinkle denied Attorney General Ashley Moody’s motion to dismiss and gave six FAMU students 30 days to amend their complaint with more evidence.
Josh Dubin and Grant & Eisenhofer represent the students. They say the underfunding is “de jure” segregation, a remnant of pre-1964 state policies.
In September, DeSantis, the state university system Board of Governors, Chancellor Ray Rodrigues, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr., and the State Board of Education were sued.
Four undergraduates and two postgraduates allege that a series of decisions discriminate against the Tallahassee school.
Their attorneys claim a funding gap prevents the school from offering high-demand programs and maintaining the campus.
“The importance of this case not only resides in the disparity of the money but just in understanding that history is repeating itself and it’s affecting us now,” said Fort Lauderdale junior psychology principal Nyabi Stevens.
“This work is the only way to change the past and influence the future. “We’re here doing what we need to do as students and as representatives of African Americans across the nation,” said Stevens.
The state claims Stevens and others are suing the wrong people and institutions.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Anita Patel said DeSantis only appoints members to the Board of Governors, which must follow the Legislature’s funding directives.
Chancellor Rodrigues may meet with university presidents, lawmakers, and the governor, but he does not decide on “critical” issues.
“The mere allegation that he has “regular interaction” with these individuals does not demonstrate that the injuries raised by plaintiffs are traceable to him or that he can remedy the injuries alleged,” Patel said.
Hinkle replied, “Tell them who to sue.”
Hinkle suggested removing some defendants, like DeSantis, for lack of standing but disagreed with Patel’s defense.
“If you argue that we can run a segregation system or that this is a constitutional violation and there’s nothing we can do about it, that won’t wash,” Hinkle told Patel.
State policy, according to Dubin, erodes FAMU’s identity.
The state matches federal land grant funds at 100% for the University of Florida, the state’s only other land grant institution, but not FAMU.
Students said the funding disparity hurts the university’s ability to recruit students and diversify faculty.
Dubin told the court that closing and merging the FAMU engineering school to create a joint college of engineering with FSU in 1982 was “to strip FAMU of its identity.”
He traced de jure segregation to the 1965 closing of the FAMU law school and its transfer to Florida State University.
Orlando’s law school reopened in 2002.
The suit claims that dozens of FAMU programs are duplicated at predominantly white universities, devaluing FAMU’s role in the state university system.
Only 12 FAMU’s 52 majors aren’t offered at neighboring Florida State University.
“We want this institution to be recognized for what it is, a land-grant institution with a unique identity and not to be stunted in its growth,” Dubin said.
FAMU and the University of Florida receive federal research dollars that states must match.
A 2013 Association of Public and Land-grant Universities study states that UF matches 100% and FAMU matches less than 50%.
Students say UF and FAMU receive very different state funding.
In 2019, UF students received $14,984 in state support, and FAMU students $11,450.
DeSantis, HBCUs, and money
The difference since 1987 is $1.3 billion. The suit also worries DeSantis’ 2022 Stop WOKE Act may cost FAMU performance-based funding grants.
HB 7 prohibits sex and race education. Dubin said FAMU courses like “The Role of Race in Criminal Procedure” would be subject to legal sanctions.
Dubin claims that Florida policy is stripping FAMU of its historically Black identity. The act is temporarily blocked in federal court.
If upheld, the Board of Governors and DeSantis would review courses on race and the justice system.
Dubin said FAMU may lose state performance-based funding.
Dublin stated in court documents that many FAMU programs would lose state-allocated performance-based funding if not discontinued.
Dubin told Hinkle that HB 7’s provisions make it difficult for a historic Black university to write a mission statement that DeSantis, Rodrigues, and the SUS Board of Governors would approve.
Hinkle gave Dubin 30 days to refile the lawsuit with more data to show how to program duplication is a problem in a state university system with 12 schools serving 22 million residents and how issues identified are rooted in a pre-1964 segregated school system.
Dubin believed that amending the complaint would strengthen it.
The suit seeks a jury trial to determine whether a court-appointed mediator should recommend ways to correct inequities and whether Florida should commit to parity in public university support within five years.