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FAMU leader: Orlando best for law school

President Frederick Humphries says Orlando has more African-Americans and more opportunities.

By BARRY KLEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 14, 2000


Florida A&M University President Frederick Humphries is recommending Orlando as the site for the university's new law school, which could be enough to finally sink Tampa's bid to land it.

In a letter to university system Chancellor Adam Herbert, Humphries said the Orlando area has more African-Americans than Hillsborough County, has more African-American partners at major law firms and would provide more opportunities for FAMU law students.

"Having ... visited the proposed sites myself, I firmly believe that the city of Orlando provides the best location for a successful FAMU College of Law," Humphries said in the letter.

Herbert could not be reached for comment Monday. He and Humphries were expected to announce a joint recommendation at a meeting Friday of the state Board of Regents, when a site will be selected. Herbert's spokesman said Monday he intends to keep to that schedule.

While the timing of Humphries' recommendation was a surprise, the substance was not. FAMU officials have made no secret of their preference for Orlando, especially given the historically black university's rocky relationship with Tampa.

This weekend, for example, FAMU will play the annual Florida Classic football game in Orlando. That was a Tampa event until 1997, when fans and alumni called for a move after what they viewed as racially insensitive treatment by area hotels and a shopping mall.

But also weighing on Tampa's bid were misgivings about its proposed site for the law school, which is the city's former police station at 1710 N Tampa St. FAMU officials have said they prefer a new building, especially given the police station's significant environmental problems.

Officials who have been lobbying hard for Tampa's bid in recent months had not seen Humphries' letter as of late Monday.

"I think I better read it before I say anything," said Bill McBride, chairman of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and managing partner of Holland & Knight, the state's largest law firm.

McBride was surprised to hear that the letter refers to additional donations supporting Orlando's bid, including a major gift by Denny's Restaurants expected to total at least $1-million.

"I didn't realize we could keep upgrading," McBride said.

The letter is not the first time Orlando has been ranked at the top of FAMU's list. In September, a state selection committee recommended Orlando, but a final decision was delayed after Herbert asked for more information regarding which community could produce the most minority law graduates.

The legislation authorizing the new school states that its overriding mission is to produce more African-American lawyers, who make up just 2 percent of the state's lawyers.

Humphries said a new round of information submitted this month by the cities indicates Orlando wins on that count, too.

Orlando, for example, provided 38 written commitments from area law firms for student internships. Tampa provided none. Orlando also offered the best food and fitness considerations, and comparable student housing options.

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