Florida A&M students sue state for funding, allege HBCU discrimination


A group of six Florida A&M University students in Tallahassee filed a class action lawsuit against the state on Thursday, alleging decades of discriminatory underfunding of the historically black public university.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, shares many features of past fights in Maryland, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina for fair treatment of public HBCUs. He alleges the state is pouring more money into traditionally white institutions such as Florida State University, also in Tallahassee, and allows schools to duplicate FAMU academic programs.

“There is a big difference between the two universities in the city of Tallahassee,” said Britney Denton, a doctoral student in FAMU’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and a plaintiff in the case. “If you go to the north side, you will see wonderful sports facilities and incredible accommodation. But when you get to the south side where the HBCU is, it’s a different world because we don’t have the same resources.

Denton said it was clear to her and her classmates that FAMU was not responsible for the stark differences in infrastructure and institutional wealth, but rather that the university was the victim of government-sponsored discrimination. State.

“We got to see the big picture,” she said. “The university needs state and local government resources, which have not provided enough support.”

The students are asking the court to appoint a mediator to recommend ways to rectify inequities and force Florida to commit to full parity in its support for all of its public universities within five years.

FAMU said it was not involved in the lawsuit and declined to comment on the matter. The Florida State University System Board of Governors, a named respondent, also declined to comment on the ongoing litigation.

Florida has four historically black campuses; the other three are private. The state has increased its funding for schools in recent years, providing more than $123 million in the 2020-21 budget, up $21.3 million from the previous year.

The complaint says the state deliberately tried to undermine FAMU’s competitiveness by letting other public colleges duplicate its academic programs, attracting prospective students. Decades of disparate state funding have prevented FAMU from achieving parity with its traditionally white counterparts, the lawsuit alleges. He claims that the University of Florida received a larger state appropriation per student than FAMU from 1987 to 2020, representing a shortfall of about $1.3 billion.

Advocates for the students say the disparity is striking because the two schools share the distinction of being Florida’s only public universities. States are obligated to match federal dollars for all land-granting universities, but historically black campuses are often short-changed.

‘We’re still behind:’ Public HBCUs see record investment, but still face legacy of state-sponsored discrimination

A 2013 study by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities was among the first to highlight the disparity and found that 61% of black land-grant institutions did not receive 100% of the funds matching funds from their states from 2010 to 2012. During that time, Florida only gave FAMU 42% of the money it was entitled to, according to the study.

A more recent account in Forbes magazine of the chronic underfunding of public HBCUs said FAMU had been siphoned off about $1.9 billion by the state of Florida since 1987, adjusted for inflation. . The report used federal data to compare the state’s per-student funding of traditionally white land-grant schools with that of HBCUs, which it said had been collectively underfunded by at least $12.8 billion. dollars.

HBCU land-grant institutions are much more dependent on federal and state funding, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of their revenue, according to a study by the National Education Association. In comparison, 44% of other land-grant schools’ revenue comes from federal and state sources, according to the association. This reliance makes HBCUs more vulnerable in an economic downturn and when states refuse support.

“We’ve been digging into the numbers and the obligations to fund the school on par, and not only is that not the case now, but it hasn’t been the case for some time historically either,” Barbara Hart said. , one of Grant’s attorneys. & Eisenhofer representing the students. “It’s the kind of problem that compounds problems over time in terms of recruitment, prestige and research.”

FAMU was founded in 1887 with 15 students and two instructors, according to the university, which today has nearly 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students on its rosters. It was among a group of other public universities established to serve black students who were shut out of state flagships and other halls of higher learning in the segregated South.

Higher education experts say the gaping gaps in support for public HBCUs are proof of the lasting legacy of segregation in the sector.

In historically black schools in Maryland, the pursuit of equity without giving up identity

States have been forced to atone for disparities in public higher education. Last year, Maryland agreed to pay $577 million over a decade to its four HBCUs to settle a 15-year court battle over unfair funding. In 2006, Alabama agreed to pay $600 million for a 30-year campus renovation plan for its two historically black public institutions. Four years earlier, a U.S. district court ordered Mississippi to spend more than $500 million on its three historically black colleges.


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