Bush Agrees to Hearings On Florida Admissions Proposal
Following a highly publicized daylong sit-in by black state lawmakers, Gov. Jeb Bush has begun a series of hearings on his controversial plan to end race-based admissions in Florida's colleges and universities.
Miami citizens will have the chance to voice their views this week in one of three scheduled hearings on the governor's "One Florida" plan. Mr. Bush agreed to the meetings during a tense negotiating session with two African-American legislators who set up camp in the governor's office suite for more than 24 hours on Jan. 18 to protest his proposed ban on racial preferences in university enrollment and state contracting practices.
The governor agreed to postpone for almost one month the Florida board of regents' scheduled vote on his proposals, which include his "Talented 20" program. If approved by the regents during the rescheduled meeting on Feb. 17, the new plan would guarantee that seniors who graduate in the top 20 percent of their high school classes would be admitted to one of 10 state university campuses—provided they've also completed 19 required courses in high school.
The SAT, which has long been considered a barrier to college for many minority students, would no longer be a factor in admissions. ("Jeb Bush Seeks Race- Based-Admissions Ban, Nov. 24, 1999.)
Gov. Bush, a Republican, has maintained that he intends to expand the number of minority students who are served by the state university system, but critics point to studies saying that minority enrollment could drop just as easily as it could rise under the new plan. The governor and the regents, they say, are moving too hastily to approve a plan that will have lasting implications for future generations.
"He kept saying the plan is not perfect, but it will work," said Rep. Anthony C. Hill Jr., who, along with fellow Democrat and state Sen. Kendrick Meek, stayed in Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan's office until the governor agreed to the hearings. "We say, 'Let's take it to the people and let them come to the meetings and voice their concerns,'" Mr. Hill added.
Aid Would Rise
Keith Goldschmidt, who is a spokesman for the 14-member board of regents, said critics of Gov. Bush's plan have failed to notice its other, more positive aspects. In addition to the Talented 20 program, the governor has proposed increasing need-based financial aid by 43 percent, to $65.9 million, in fiscal 2000.
In addition, he said, the new plan would not prohibit the state's universities from considering special circumstances for students who do not meet minimum admissions requirements, such as whether a student is the first in his or her family to attend college, or comes from an underrepresented geographic area.
Of the 28,000 students who enrolled in the university system last year, only 3,200 entered under an alternative admissions policy, including those whose race or ethnicity worked in their favor. Two-thirds of that total were minority students, Mr. Goldschmidt said.
"When you look at the plan in full, it's good for the state," Mr. Goldschmidt said. "University presidents should be able to maintain diversity or increase it."
Still, state Sen. Daryl L. Jones said he was frustrated that the governor and the regents had apparently made up their minds without first hearing from the public.
"It doesn't appear to me that there is going to be any good-faith effort to review the outcome of those hearings," said Mr. Jones, a Democrat who is the chairman of the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators.
Vol. 19, Issue 21, Page 18