Regents likely to OK One Florida
By GRACE FRANK of The Tampa Tribune

Originally published Feb. 17, 2000

TAMPA – An end to racial preferences in state university admissions is expected today.

By tonight, affirmative action policies that have helped some minority students gain entry to a state university may be history.

The Board of Regents, which governs Florida’s 10 public universities, meets in Orlando this afternoon to consider Gov. Jeb Bush’s One Florida plan. The idea is to replace racial and sex preferences in university admissions with guaranteed seats to top public school graduates.

Bush moved in November to end similar set-asides in state contracting through executive order. But changes to school admissions must go before regents.

Approval is expected, but the vote won’t go down quickly or quietly.

Hundreds of lawmakers and students, among others, intend to make last-minute pleas to slow or halt the governor’s plan.

“It’s going to ultimately affect us and our children, so I think it’s important that our voices be heard,” said Tyvi Small, a University of South Florida senior and president of the school’s Black Student Union, which is arranging transport from USF.

A Wednesday USF rally attracted hundreds of students, said junior Shawna Mulford, a student government lobbyist.

Petitions were signed to be presented today. Several dozen students are set to leave Tampa – complete with a sendoff by Ernestine Bradley, wife of Democratic presidential candidate Bill Bradley – for the meeting at the University of Central Florida’s education school gymnasium.

The regents’ consideration of the proposal starts at 1 p.m. and allows for public debate. The meeting also can be monitored at the Internet.

The Bush plan automatically admits to a state university the top 20 percent of each public high school’s graduating class, provided the students complete at least 19 credits in core academic subjects.

Regents estimate that guarantee not only would maintain diversity but might bring 400 more minority students to enroll this fall. That’s an almost irrelevant increase, however, to a system that admitted some 27,000 freshmen last year.

Of the 220,000 total students in the system, 32 percent are minorities, records show. But the numbers are skewed by Florida A&M; University, the historically black school that in 1998 claimed a 99 percent minority student body.

In contrast, the state’s oldest and most selective college, the University of Florida, is only 5.5 percent black and 9 percent Hispanic.

Regents are expected to reject a request made to extend the guarantee to private schools, a concern to some parents.

More aggressive recruiting should help attract diverse students, officials have said. Also, universities may be paired with local high and middle schools that either received D or F grades on state-issued report cards or traditionally fare poorly on state-mandated tests.

Regents also plan to put more weight on diversity in annual job evaluations given university presidents.

Exceptions are expected to continue for students who don’t qualify by grades or test scores. In the past, 12 percent of freshmen came through this alternate route each year.

That number should drop to 10 percent this fall as racial or gender preferences are replaced with allowances for family income, home language, hometown, or special athletic or artistic talents.

Grace Frank covers higher education and can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 259-8285.