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    UF defends minority efforts

    UF's enrollment of black freshmen has declined some since Gov. Jeb Bush banned race preferences.

    By BARRY KLEIN

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 7, 2001


    University of Florida president Charles Young said Thursday that his school worked hard to maintain racial diversity under Gov. Jeb Bush's One Florida plan, rebutting criticism that UF should have done more to recruit minority students.

    Since Bush banned consideration of race in university admissions, the percentage of black freshmen at UF has dropped from 11.8 percent to 7.2 percent. The percentage of Hispanic freshman also has declined, from 12 percent to 11 percent.

    "No one is more sorry than I that, despite all our efforts, the results were so unsatisfactory," Young said in an e-mail to state Education Secretary Jim Horne.

    "I am, however, convinced that without our efforts they would have been even more disappointing," said Young, who said he is also convinced the school will do a better job next year.

    It won't be easy.

    UF administrators acknowledge that their school, segregated for most of its history, is viewed by many African-Americans as elitist and unwelcoming. And its stiff admission standards -- the average UF freshman this year had a 1,300 SAT score and 4.0 grade point average -- means it must compete for a relatively small pool of black applicants.

    Young sent his e-mail one day after meeting with Horne and other state education officials in Tallahassee. It was the same day Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan released new enrollment numbers that show the percentage of minority students in Florida's freshman class has remained stable in the wake of One Florida.

    The only significant exception was UF's decline, though the downturn was hardly a surprise in Gainesville.

    UF officials have been predicting a decline since Bush announced his ban in late 1999. Soon after, Young accused the governor of moving too quickly, a burst of candor that earned him a sharp rebuke from then-university system Chancellor Adam Herbert.

    But Young, a former chancellor at UCLA, was speaking from experience. He had watched minority enrollment plummet at California's top universities in the 1990s, after Ward Connerly led a voter initiative there that outlawed consideration of race in university admissions.

    A similar drop occurred at top schools in Texas and Washington after racial preferences were banned in those states. Some of the universities have since managed to bring their minority numbers back to earlier levels, but only after long delays and wrenching changes.

    Officials here, however, do not seem inclined toward patience.

    When he announced the new minority numbers for Florida, Brogan criticized UF officials, saying they should have moved more quickly and aggressively to recruit minority students, especially African-Americans.

    He also questioned why the university recently decided to stop awarding race-based scholarships, a change that has not been adopted by the state's other schools.

    Young did not discuss race-based scholarships in his e-mail. But he said UF "set about very early to achieve the goal of continued diversity in the absence of affirmative action."

    Even before One Florida was approved by the state Board of Regents, UF established an admissions task force that spent five months working on methods for maximizing minority enrollment, Young said.

    The school brought in experts from California and Texas in hopes of avoiding the problems experienced there. Every recommendation suggested by the task force was implemented, he said.

    Not all of them worked. But the university will keep searching for solutions, Young said.

    "I do hope that you would agree that our goal is consistent with yours and the governor's," he said, "to continue to recruit, admit and enroll a diverse student body at UF."

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