The FAMU discrimination ruling is challenged

Florida A&M University by JHVEPhoto via iStock for WMNF News. February 11, 2022: Center for Access and Student Success building in FAMU, Tallahassee, FL, USA. FAMU is a public historically black land-grant university.

©2024 The News Service of Florida

Alleging that the state has “maintained discriminatory practices traceable to segregation,” attorneys for six Florida A&M University students have asked a federal appeals court to overturn a judge’s ruling that dismissed a potential class-action lawsuit about issues such as funding and programs at the historically Black school.

The attorneys filed a 77-page brief last week at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, after U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle dismissed the lawsuit alleging the state has discriminated against the university.

“Florida’s treatment of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, known as ‘FAMU,’ is as old as FAMU itself; it traces back to the same system of de jure segregation that created FAMU, and it is unconstitutional,” the brief said.

The lawsuit contended that state practices involving FAMU violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and what is known as Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

As an example, it alleged underfunding of FAMU and that duplications of programs with nearby Florida State University and other universities have harmed FAMU.

It contended that FAMU needs to have high-demand, unique academic programs to help draw a wide range of students.

“Florida has failed to create an academic identity for FAMU separate from its racialized history,” the appeals court brief said. “That is a product of the unnecessary duplication of academic programs at other state universities, particularly geographically proximate FSU, and the failure to offer any unique, high-demand program at FAMU to attract racially diverse applicants and establish an academic identity beyond FAMU’s segregated history.”

But in his January decision dismissing the case, Hinkle wrote that the plaintiffs did not meet a key legal test of showing that disparities among state universities were rooted in what is known as “de jure” segregation — segregation sanctioned by law.

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