After fours years of a strained relationship with many student officials, Gov. Jeb Bush is planning this semester to visit campus and speak to students during a lecture series designed by student officials.
Sophomore Class President Torey Alston extended the invitation during a meeting with Bush earlier this month. Alston said he requested to meet with Bush to clear up misconceptions about Bush’s administration and to discuss FAMU’s state funding.
Leslie Steele, a spokesperson for Bush, said: “The governor would not pass up the opportunity to meet with young professionals. It is imperative to the governor’s agenda as the state’s leader.”
The meeting was a far cry from the former rapport with the governor’s office and student leaders. In 2002, former SGA President and current Tallahassee Commissioner Andrew Gillum was publicly against Bush speaking at spring 2002 commencement ceremonies despite an invitation extended by President Gainous’ administration. In 1999, when Bush enacted the One Florida Initiative, thousands of FAMU students, lead by student leaders, marched to the capitol in protest.
During the Sept. 4 meeting, Alston said he discussed the state of the Bright Futures Program, state funding, and opportunities students have with state government.
“I told the governor that I wanted to see a good working relationship with our university president and Board of Trustees ensuring that we can receive more financial support in the future,” said Alston, 19, a business student from Ft. Lauderdale.
“I asked the governor to ensure me that no dollars would be cut from the Bright Futures Program,” Alston said. Earlier this year state legislators considered eliminating the merit-based scholarship program.
Bush promised Alston that no dollars would be cut, but he did not guarantee additional dollars to the program.
“Torey stressed to the governor how important it was to open up the gateways and make the resources available,” Steele said.
Bush told Alston FAMU’s budget would not be cut, and if Alston checks the records he would find funds increase yearly. Alston said FAMU received $159,530,157 for the 2002 – 2003 fiscal year. This fiscal year FAMU received $181,083,350, more than a $21 million increase.
“The governor was very attentive and I believed that he received my issues very well,” Alston said. “He also shared his views on the state of HBCU’s and his commitment to FAMU.”
Alston believes the governor’s commitment to visit will follow through.
“Hopefully the governor’s visit will open up an avenue for him to articulate his message to FAMU students and clarify misconceptions about his administration.” Alston said many FAMU students view Bush’s administration as insensitive to FAMU’s needs.
Steele said, “the Governor has committed to the invite and we should be seeing him soon.” She said FAMU administration and the governor’s office are working out a date.
Many view Alton’s meeting with Bush as a great accomplishment.
“I am very proud of President Alston’s achievement,” said Sophomore Vice President Kathryn Berry, 18, a business administration student from Clinton, Md.
Current and former SGA officials said Bush’s visit is a good idea, but want Bush to speak in a forum setting.
“I believe that it’s an achievement that Gov. Bush will be addressing the student body,” said SGA President Larry O. Rivers, a senior public relations student from Tallahassee. ” I also believe that his visit should be in an academic setting, where students are able to interact with him.”
While Gillum objected to Bush speaking at 2002 commencement, Gillum said ” I believe that with the new administration and new era of student that Gov. Bush is able to develop an improved relationship.”
Benjamin Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.