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On Thursday, six Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU) students filed a class-action lawsuit against the state of Florida over alleged racial discrimination, claiming that state politicians have deliberately denied the Historically Black college equal funding with the University of Florida, a predominantly White school.
“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 counterparts,” the lawsuit alleges.
Filed in Florida’s federal court, the lawsuit also accuses state higher education officials of duplicating academic programs FAMU is known for in an attempt to siphon enrollment from the school. Additionally, the lawsuit names Florida’s higher education system, including Chancellor Marshall Criser III, as defendants.
According to Forbes, in fall 2021, FAMU enrolled over 7,300 students, whereas UF enrolled 34,800 students. Despite the vast difference in size, FAMU educates more than three and a half times the number of African Americans than UF does. These statistics are similar across the South as HBCUs do the lion’s share of the work educating African American students.
HBCUs offer Black students opportunities PWIs do not
The Biden-Harris Administration recognizes the influence of Black higher education, citing HBCUs have produced 40 percent of all Black engineers and 50 percent of all Black lawyers in America. Seventy percent of Black doctors in our country attended an HBCU, and 80 percent of Black judges are alumni of these schools.
According to CBS News, FayeRachel Peterson, a FAMU graduate student in chemistry, said she was motivated to file the lawsuit after realizing early last month that she was paid poorly as a research assistant while her friend at Florida State University doesn’t have to worry about working while studying for a master’s degree. Peterson stated she believes her graduate stipend is so low because FAMU doesn’t receive the same amount of funding as the other Florida public universities.
“Even if I can’t get more funding, I would hope in the future that other students can have better opportunities,” Peterson told CBS MoneyWatch on Friday.
The lawsuit is asking the Florida court to order state leaders to repay FAMU the state aid it should have received all those years and to begin providing the school the same amount of per-student funding as UF within the next five years, attorney Barbara Hart, who is also representing the students, told CBS MoneyWatch.
The underfunding has forced FAMU to fall behind on maintenance of its facilities, such as school buildings and student housing, according to the suit. A $111 million facilities debt in 2020 forced the university to temporarily shutter its 60,000-square-foot recreation center until February of last year. Last month, the school also briefly closed one of its dorms due to flood damage and pest issues.
A Forbes investigation found that FAMU has been underfunded by $1.9 billion since 1987, the second-largest disparity behind North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University at $2.8 billion.
As this lawsuit’s outcome is yet to be determined, one thing is certain: the days of Black students accepting porous conditions from inside or outside of their institutions due to a lack of funding are over and many are now challenging what has historically been the status quo.