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A Times Editorial

The question for FAMU

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 31, 2000

Florida A&M University should think for a moment before selling its new law school to the highest bidder. Tampa, Orlando, Lakeland and Daytona Beach each have promised millions of dollars in the bidding war, but the only issue for FAMU should be where a law school best serves students. That focus shouldn't be blurred by old racial resentments or by the awe of dollar signs.

Tampa is ahead of the other cities in terms of monetary pledges. The city valued an abandoned police headquarters building at $10.7-million; combined with $2-million pledged by Tampa Electric Co. and Hillsborough County, the bid falls within the range FAMU wanted. Orlando submitted a $9.8-million bid, which largely represents the value of a downtown site. The city expects to raise millions more in cash. Lakeland offered $2-million; Daytona Beach, a little less. FAMU will choose three finalists by Aug. 7.

Forcing cities to compete for a law school that should be funded by the state sets a bad precedent and threatens to leave a residue of ill feelings. Some in Tampa resent the way

FAMU supporters have gone about soliciting public and private funds. Alumni of FAMU, one of the nation's leading historically black universities, haven't forgotten what they feel was the shabby treatment they received during the years Tampa hosted the annual Florida Classic football game between FAMU and Bethune-Cookman College. But the law school should not be used to settle old scores or to play cities against each other.

The question for FAMU is this: What location best serves students and their careers? By law, the school must be built along the Interstate 4 corridor. All bid cities offer affordable housing, though as bigger cities, Tampa and Orlando offer better educational support and more career opportunities. An east coast site would balance the law schools that already exist in Central, South and West Florida. Where will FAMU students come from? What site is best suited to function as a branch of FAMU's campus in Tallahassee? How will the site fit into FAMU's mission and complement the service area of existing law schools?

As dubious as the need for FAMU's law school is, Gov. Jeb Bush and state lawmakers gave the go-ahead this year, and now the task is to build the strongest law school possible. Everything else should be irrelevant.

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