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Bush restores Florida A&M law program

The school's site is yet unknown. Alumni say they have open minds, but Orlando seems to be

By SHELBY OPPEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 15, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- With trumpets of the Florida A&M University band blasting beside him, Gov. Jeb Bush on Wednesday made it official: The Rattlers are getting their law school back.

"Today we are not only righting a wrong by signing this bill, in terms of the morality of taking away something that offered such great hope for so many people, but we're also embracing diversity in the right way," Bush said.

With Tampa, Orlando and Lakeland competing to be the new law school's home, FAMU's alumni president insisted to a packed auditorium on the Tallahassee campus that the race remains open. Classes are to commence by Jan. 1, 2003.

"The city that comes with $12.5-million or some package that represents that, that's the city that's telling us that they want to play with Florida A&M in terms of ... Florida A&M's law school," said Bernard Kinsey, president of FAMU's national alumni association.

But in an interview later, Kinsey emphasized Orlando's merits. He mentioned Orlando's wealth of hotel rooms, its airport and the fine treatment that FAMU alumni received from the local newspaper publisher when the group held its annual convention there last year.

Kinsey added that Universal Studios in Orlando -- along with other "major multinational corporations" he declined to name -- have approached alumni to offer financial support.

Yet, Kinsey said, "we also believe Tampa is going to step up and get some things done."

Bush said he doesn't favor either location.

"I'd be happy with any of them," he said.

The bill was shepherded through the Legislature by a coalition of black and Hispanic lawmakers who say the state needs more minority lawyers. It creates law schools at historically black FAMU and at Florida International University in Miami, which has the largest portion of Hispanic students of any of the state's 10 public universities. Supporters of both FAMU and FIU have campaigned for years for law schools, often fighting against one another. Florida A&M lost its law school in the 1960s when one opened at nearby Florida State University. For black lawmakers, "this was the last jewel in the crown that we needed to achieve," said state Rep. Rudy Bradley, a St. Petersburg Republican and prime supporter of the bill.

James Corbin, the only African American among the 14 regents who oversee the state university system, was one of several speakers who praised Bush for signing the law school bill. And he noted that it took a Republican governor and Republican-led Legislature to do it.

"For my school, my home that I grew up in, Gov. Bush, we owe you a sincere debt of gratitude," Corbin said.

After so many speakers weighed in Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan earned a round of applause for his short message.

"It's a law school at last, it's a law school at last," proclaimed Brogan, smiling and throwing his arms out wide. "Thank God almighty, it's a law school at last."

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