On Thursday a class action lawsuit was filed by six Florida A&M University students against the state of Florida alleging decades of discriminatory underfunding of the school.
Their claim is the state prioritizes funding for predominantly white institutions like Florida State University over HBCUs like FAMU.
According to the Washington Post, The complaint says there has been a deliberate effort by the state to undermine FAMU’s competitiveness by letting other public colleges duplicate its academic programs, luring away prospective students. Decades of disparate state funding have prevented FAMU from achieving parity with its traditionally White counterparts, according to the suit. It claims the University of Florida received a larger state appropriation per student than FAMU from 1987 to 2020, amounting to a shortfall of roughly $1.3 billion.
The student’s complaint adds that the alleged funding being held back from FAMU since the late 1980s is over $1.3 billion.
One of the lawyers representing the students is Barabara Hart an attorney and principal at Grant & Eisenhofer, along with attorney Joshua Dubin from New York and a few others from the plaintiffs’ law firm Grant & Eisenhofer.
“It’s something that’s been worked on for quite a while, but then there have also been all these recent things that have gone on with the housing issues and the athletic department, so it all came to a head,” Hart told the Tallahassee Democrat
Hart referenced FAMU’s issues with room shortages before the start of the fall semester, pest infestations, student-athletes facing ineligibility, and the athletics department’s incomplete staff, saying that they all reflect the university’s underfunding problem.
“The lack of fair funding over time just compounds the problem,” Hart added. “We did our research, it all came together, the clients felt very strongly about it and we’re moving forward.”
The six plaintiffs of the case are FAMU students, Britney Denton, Nyabi Stevens, Deidrick Dansby, Fayerachel Peterson, Alexander Harris, and another student who is not identified. The defendants being addressed are the Board of Governors, retiring State University Chancellor Marshall Criser III, st and the state of Florida.
Among the six student plaintiffs are juniors with majors in psychology, math education, engineering, and music industry, a first-year graduate student in chemistry, and Denton, a Doctor of Pharmacy candidate.
“Our school has always made a little go a long way, but we shouldn’t have to,” Denton said in an interview with the Tallahassee Democrat. “There are bright and determined people here who deserve the same level of support and quality of resources as FSU next door or any other state school in Florida. We’re proud to be here, and we want Florida to be proud to support us, and other HBCUs, equally.”
In their complaint, the students accuse the state of executing discriminatory practices against HBCUs for years.
“Throughout its history and up to the present day, Florida has purposefully engaged in a pattern and practice of racial discrimination, principally through disparate funding, that has prevented HBCUs, including FAMU, from achieving parity with their traditionally White institution (‘TWI’) counterparts,” the complaint says.
The historical underfunding of public HBCUs across the country is a hot-button issue generating great debate, especially with the resurgence of growth at HBCUs, the upward social mobility of its graduates, and increased Black political representation.
The lawsuit is reminiscent of past fights in Maryland, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina for equitable treatment of public HBCUs.
Last year Maryland state legislators settled a 15-year-old federal lawsuit that accused the state of providing inequitable resources to its four HBCUs. Morgan State University will receive $24 million in the 2023 fiscal year, Bowie State University, $16.8 million; University of Maryland Eastern Shore, $9.7 million and Coppin State University $9 million.
Recently FAMU ranked No. 103 nationally among public universities, making it the highest-ranked public HBCU in the country.
“The students love their school, and they want their school to be properly funded,” Hart told Tallahassee Democrat. “They can see and experience the way in which it’s not as well funded as the school across the tracks at FSU.”
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