State Urges Judge to Reject FAMU Case

TALLAHASSEE — State education officials Wednesday asked a federal judge to toss out a potential class-action lawsuit filed by Florida A&M University students alleging discrimination against the historically Black school.

Attorneys for the state university system’s Board of Governors and Chancellor Ray Rodrigues filed a 31-page motion arguing that the plaintiffs did not meet key legal tests such as showing alleged disparities are rooted in what is known as “de jure” segregation — segregation sanctioned by law.

As an example, the lawsuit alleges FAMU has faced underfunding when compared to other state universities. But Wednesday’s motion argued the lawsuit “lacks specific facts that tie these alleged funding disparities to de jure segregation.”

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“Funding decisions are often based on a myriad of reasons — none of which are motivated by racial bias,” the motion said. “For instance, differences in the size and operational costs between institutions, differences in lobbying efforts, and the degree to which an initiative is a priority for the institution, the state university system or the state. The complaint lacks facts that plausibly suggest that any funding disparity is due to a policy or practice that is rooted in or flows from de jure segregation.”

Attorneys for six FAMU students filed the lawsuit last year and a revised version July 3. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in June dismissed the case but allowed the plaintiffs to come back with a revised version to try to address his concerns.

In the revised version, the plaintiffs contend that state practices involving FAMU violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and what is known as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Along with underfunding, the lawsuit raises issues such as a lack of “high-demand” academic programs at FAMU. It contends that FAMU needs to have high-demand, unique academic programs to help draw a wide range of students. As an example, it points to a decision in the 1980s that created a joint engineering program for FAMU and nearby Florida State University, rather than having the program only at FAMU.

“Defendants’ acts and omissions in determining what programs FAMU can and cannot offer and which of these programs are also offered or only offered at neighboring TWIs (traditionally white institutions), perpetuates the segregation era policy of defining an institution by race rather than by its programmatic offerings,” the lawsuit said. “FAMU has always been and remains the ‘Black School.’ Its identity as an institution of higher learning is not based on what programs it offers (or other academic criteria such as the strength of its facilities, professors and faculty research productivity).”

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But in the motion to dismiss the case, the state’s attorneys Wednesday repeatedly disputed that such issues are rooted in segregation.

“While plaintiffs allege that there is unnecessary program duplication between FAMU and geographically proximate FSU and with traditionally white institutions throughout the state, they failed to allege facts that plausibly tie any program duplication to de jure segregation,” the motion said.

In dismissing the earlier version of the case, Hinkle said the plaintiffs’ attorneys would have to provide more evidence to show that alleged discrimination could be traced to segregation. For example, in addressing allegations about FAMU suffering because of duplication of programs, he pointed to massive growth in the state since Title VI passed nearly six decades ago.

“When Title VI was adopted, Florida’s population was about 5.7 million, and the state had only three public universities — two white and one black,” Hinkle wrote in the June 12 decision. “Florida now has 12 public universities serving a population of over 22 million. Of course there are duplicated programs at the 12 universities, but the assertion they were created to maintain segregation, rather than to accommodate the enormous population increase, is implausible.”

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