Separate is inherently unequal

My fellow Floridians,

It has come to my attention that there has been a “behind-the-scenes effort” to divide the joint engineering program shared by both Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University and Florida State University.

This backhanded decision by the Florida Legislature to move forward with a plan of action without first jointly consulting with the administrations of Florida A&M University is both unprofessional and not the type of leadership you expect from your elected officials.

During my ten-year tenure in the Florida House of Representatives, which started in 1982, it was the policy of the state lawmakers to reduce duplication of high-cost academic programming in the state university system. Our goal was to be good stewards of the tax dollars paid by hardworking Floridians like you and find a reasonable bipartisan solution to paying twice for some of the higher-cost academic programs such as medical schools, law schools and engineering schools. As a result, the joint School of Engineering for FAMU and FSU was formed.

Since the inception of this collaborative effort, the schools have been able to garner millions of dollars in sponsored research via its multi-year contract, graduate a bevy of talented young people who have gone on to do incredible things in the field of engineering and manufacturing, and attract bright minds from all across the country.

As a long-serving elected official from the state of Florida who has a vivid memory of previous attempts by the Florida Legislature to weaken the academic standing at FAMU by defunding the university’s law school, nursing program and several other programs throughout the years, I believe that tax dollars used to create a new School of Engineering for Florida State University when there is already a successful partnership in place with Florida A&M University is counterproductive to increasing engineering graduates.

Instead of using scarce tax dollars to duplicate another scholastic program within the city of Tallahassee, there should be an effort to allocate that funding to issues that are of greater need and priority, issues such as expanding Medicaid in Florida to the thousands of uninsured people who make too much to qualify for the program, yet not enough to purchase insurance of their own, investing in education so that students currently in school have the resources and funding to receive the quality education they deserve and, among other things, appropriating the necessary funds to improve our state’s infrastructure and invest in projects such as SunRail and improving our ports.

There is no reason this plan should move forward without an additional dialogue. The short- and long-term implications of this plan are unknown. As an alumna and lifelong advocate of FAMU, I recommend that proponents of this measure withdraw their support and give all stakeholders an opportunity to discuss a better way forward. With the long-term future of Florida A&M University at stake, we can no longer sit idly by as there are continuous attempts to weaken and dismantle the nation’s largest historically black college. As the 1954 Board v. Board of Education Supreme Court case has shown us, separate is not always equal. The notion that future Legislatures will equally protect the funding for both institutions is naïve and credulous. At a time when we need cooperation and increased partnership, this hasty resolution to a problem that does not exist will only plant the seed of division and discord. Join me in urging the Florida Legislature to do what is best for Florida A&M University and Florida State University by opposing this measure and defeating this legislation today.