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Separate but equal? FAMU-FSU engineering program to split

School divided on new amendment

Carla St.Louis | 4/10/2014, 9 a.m.

The chairman of the Board of Trustees for Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU) sent a stern letter expressing his disapproval to an amendment that would split the university's shared college of engineering with Florida State University (FSU) into a separate facility.

Currently, the universities have been sharing the building through a successful joint venture that was established since 1982.

The amendment to the budget has become a popular topic of conversation among the Black community, shedding light on the racial inequality between historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) such as FAMU and their state counterparts.

The clause was filed in the legislature by Senator John Thrasher, a staunch proponent of FSU, on April 1.

This isn't the first time Thrasher has actively used his influence in the House as speaker to benefit FSU. He recently allocated $50 million dollars to establish a medical school in FSU without the approval of the Board of Governors.

If passed, it would raise FSU’s funding for its new engineering school from $10 million to $13 million.

Solomon Badger, chairman of the Board of Trustees of FAMU, denounced the unprecedented move in a prepared statement, referring to it as “an unplanned act, which has been void of discussion and input from the current leadership of the two universities.”

The statement further read: “This nation cannot afford to revisit separate, but unequal policies when the collaboration of our two institutions through the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering represents a successful venture for the State of Florida between two research institutions.”

Under the new terms, FAMU would keep its existing building on an assigned part of FSU’s campus and continue receiving state funds. FSU, meanwhile, would create an engineering program in a new facility.

Many Black policymakers, such as Senator Arthenia Joyner (D-19) agree with Badger's comments.

Joyner, of all people, knows the aftermath of establishing separate but equal programs at a university.

She lived through a similar situation nearly 50 years ago as a student, involving FAMU’s law school. Joyner attended FAMU prior to the legislature transferring its funding for its law program to a new, law program at FSU. Once the program moved to FSU, FAMU remained without a law program for more than 30 years.

Joyner described the move as “catastrophic” in a recent interview, saying it would create a “two-tier system” that competes for resources and available funds. “Somebody’s going to suffer, and it’s going to be FAMU,” she said.

Other FAMU alumnae have spoken out against the amendment such as Willie L. Bryant, a doctor of dental surgery who graduated in 1961. Bryant sent two letters to Governor Rick Scott on April 3 and 7 expressing his outrage over the recently drafted clause. He also sent a letter to Garnett Stokes, FAMU’s interim president.

In his letters to Governor Scott, Bryant, referred to Thrasher as “a veneer with decay to the pulp” and called his play for power “ill-conceived. ”

His letter sent on April 7 further read: “As governor of the State of Florida you must not sit by idly on the sidelines and issue a statement that takes no position. Your “no” position is a position. We are looking for leadership from the Governor of Florida.”

In the early 1980’s, both FAMU and FSU requested to be given authority to operate an engineering school. To settle both requests, the legislature passed a bill and the governor signed into law a statue mandating the two universities work together to create a joint college. 

The long-term collaborative program resulted in a rewarding partnership that received high praise for addressing underrepresented student populations in engineering disciplines.

Since its beginning, the program has benefited Black students and other minorities, helping them to pursue careers in engineering.

FAMU had 369 engineering students in undergraduate and graduate programs and FSU had 2,142 last year, according to the Board of Governors.