FAMU dentistry school proposal is Senator Lawson’s last task

The planning team for Florida A&M’s proposed dental school will submit a request for $1.5 million to the state legislature in March.

Sen. Al Lawson said he supports FAMU having a college of dentistry, although the Board of Governors has not recommended it at this time.

“They don’t feel like FAMU needs a dental school at this time,” said Lawson, “This is not the best time because the economy is really tough, and universities are already having problems with funding.”

While the BOG hasn’t recommended it, Lawson said the proposal could still be approved by the state legislature.

Lawson, who is serving his last year in the senate, is trying to get the request approved while he is still in office. Lawson said the issue is trying to get planning money from the legislature. The money would have to be adopted into the legislature’s state university system budget.

The planning team first has to decide what kind of dental school will be opened, and how it will benefit Florida. Lawson said if FAMU is successful in getting the planning money, the school could still take anywhere from three to five years to complete.

The university would have the option of using lands on campus for the school of dentistry, or renovating one of the old state buildings located downtown, said Lawson. Accordingly, Lawson said the universities have first choice of using the state buildings that are no longer occupied.

Provost, Cynthia Hughes-Harris, said she is a member of the planning team. Two members of her staff, Dr. Gita Pitter, Associate Vice President for Institutional Effectiveness and Dr. Donald Palm, Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs, are on the team as well.
Some of the major issues that will be addressed in the first phase of the plan are: developing the curriculum, planning the design and construction of the teaching and clinical facilities, developing capital and operating budgets and developing a time-line for start-up detail.

“I feel very strongly that this is the right thing for FAMU,” said Hughes-Harris, “There is a direct relationship between oral health and overall physical health.”

Hughes-Harris said having a dental school at FAMU would improve the health situation in Florida and the community surrounding campus.

“If we are able to produce more dentists we would improve the overall health of Florida citizens,” said Hughes-Harris.

While FAMU would be the only Historically Black College and University in Florida with a dental school, there are two other HBCU dental schools in the United States—Howard University College of Dentistry and Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry in Nashville, Tenn.

According to thinkhbcu.org, 70 percent of black dentists and physicians earn degrees at HBCUs.

There are currently only two dental schools in Florida. Nova Southeastern University College of Dental Medicine in Ft. Lauderdale is a private college, and the University of Florida’s College of Dentistry is the only public dental school in the state.

Hughes-Harris said while big cities like Miami, Tampa and Orlando are covered, citizens in many areas of the state are not. She said most rural, low-income and minority populated areas don’t have good dental care or good health.

“The program we’re working on would provide dentists for those areas,” said Hughes-Harris.