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Orlando wins FAMU law school

The choice was not a surprise. What was surprising was the pointed discussion of how to increase the number of black lawyers in the state.

By BARRY KLEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 18, 2000


MIAMI -- Florida A&M University got a home Friday for its new law school, with Orlando beating out Tampa as expected.

But the unanimous vote by the state Board of Regents came only after FAMU's president assured the board that the school will find ways to achieve its mission, which is to increase the number of black attorneys in Florida. African-Americans make up just 2 percent of the state's lawyers.

Deans at other Florida law schools have said FAMU's presence will likely just reshuffle the state's small pool of qualified black applicants, draining their campuses of some African-American students but adding few to the total.

Even university system chancellor Adam Herbert, who recommended Orlando, appeared skeptical after the vote. He expects FAMU's law school to attract a considerable number of white applicants.

He noted that under Gov. Jeb Bush's One Florida program students can't be denied admission on the basis of race.

"We'll have to see how the university does," Herbert said.

FAMU president Frederick Humphries told the regents he is aware of concerns about where the new school will find its students after it opens in 2002.

He said FAMU has no intention of trying to build an all-black law school, but will recruit heavily from historically black colleges in Florida, including Bethune-Cookman and Edward Waters.

The school also can add to the pool of black applicants by generating greater enthusiasm for legal education among FAMU undergrads, dozens of whom already go on to law school every year, Humphries said.

That may not be enough.

Herbert noted that historically black schools have been producing fewer law school applicants in recent years. And FAMU students already are heavily recruited by other law schools, including some of the most prestigious in the nation.

But this conversation, though surprisingly pointed, had no impact on the issue of the day, which was the selection of a home for the new school. The school eventually expects to enroll more than 600 students.

The choice was no surprise; both Herbert and Humphries had announced their preference for Orlando earlier in the week. But it was still a heady moment for FAMU supporters, a few dozen of whom traveled to Miami to witness the vote.

It came 35 years after state lawmakers decided to end their support of what was then a struggling, all-black FAMU law school in Tallahassee. A few years later, the state opened a predominantly white law school at nearby Florida State University.

That infuriated FAMU alumni, who considered it a blatant act of racism. For them, Friday's vote was a satisfying taste of what they consider a just dessert.

The only Tampa official who spoke at the meeting was gracious in defeat.

"We think the important factor here is that there will be a FAMU College of Law somewhere in the state of Florida, because there is a critical need for African-American lawyers," said Gloria Anthony, who oversees workforce and community development issues for the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Orlando mayor Glenda Hood said she was thrilled by the decision.

"Thanks for the confidence you've placed in FAMU, and in our community," she told the regents.

Herbert listed several reasons for recommending Orlando, including the strong support of the area's legal community, which promised FAMU students dozens of internships, and the city's decision to move its law library to the new FAMU campus.

"This will save FAMU a considerable amount of money in building its collection," Herbert said.

Humphries cited many of the same points but also talked about FAMU's close relationship with Orlando's corporate community. He said companies such as Disney have helped make the Florida Classic, FAMU's annual football game against Bethune-Cookman, the largest black sporting event in America.

That game, which will be played today in Orlando, was for many years a Tampa event. But fans and alumni became upset in 1990 over what they perceived as unfair reservation and payment requirements at some Tampa hotels. That led to an alumni boycott.

In 1994, alumni again were annoyed when Tampa Bay Center, the mall across the street from what was then Houlihan's Stadium, closed early, preventing fans from entering after the game.

The Classic moved to Orlando in 1997.

Several FAMU alumni living in Tampa have said hard feelings lingering from those years were just too much for the city to overcome, despite what the city considered a generous proposal to get the law school.

Tampa had offered to give FAMU the old police station building downtown, valued at $10.7-million, as well as $1-million each in donations from the County Commission and Tampa Electric Co.

"I'm saddened by (the decision to locate in Orlando)," City Council member Bob Buckhorn said. "I think we had the best proposal. But I also understand we have a long way to go to repair the damage that was self-inflicted during the Florida Classic. It's an opportunity for us to grow as a community, to understand where our weaknesses are."

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