Florida Judge Deals Blow to Minority Admissions

Florida Judge Deals Blow to Minority Admissions

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — An administrative hearing judge upheld a state plan to ban consideration of race in college admissions last month, rejecting a challenge by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The NAACP challenged the change on behalf of a Black high school sophomore from Miami. Association officials argued the rules were invalid because only individual universities can make admissions decisions.
Administrative Law Judge Charles Adams ruled, however, that the key parts of the rule changes were valid.
The ruling “confirms my view that Florida’s universities can legally admit talented high school graduates without using divisive and constitutionally suspect racial preferences,”Gov. Jeb Bush said in a statement.
In part of his ruling, Adams did uphold a rule that allows universities to consider different criteria for admissions to certain programs to meet equal access goals.
John Newton, the attorney representing the NAACP, says it was “hard to reconcile” that part of the ruling with the decision to throw out consideration of race-based criteria.
Newton also notes that the decision questioned the part of the new rules that determines who makes up the top 20 percent of each high school graduating class.
“That to us seems to invalidate the rule,” Newton says. “But the judge did not take that next step.”
The ban was part of an overhaul of Florida’s affirmative action programs announced  by  Bush earlier this year, when he offered the plan in an attempt to curtail a ballot vote on the issue, which proved detrimental to the Republican parties in both California and Washington.
The replacement plan Bush offered could be put in place immediately, university officials say.
Bush’s “Talented 20” plan guarantees college admission to the top 20 percent of each graduating class at Florida’s public high schools, something the governor has said should boost minority enrollment.
Polls showed Bush was supported by a majority of Floridians in the move, but it brought highly visible protests.
Two Black lawmakers staged a sit-in in Bush’s office before he agreed to hold hearings around the state on the matter. Later, on the first day of the legislative session in March, opponents of the plan marched on the Capitol (see Black Issues, March 30).
Board of Regents Chancellor Dr. Adam Herbert, who is Black, says the decision will allow the university system to immediately put the Talented 20 program in place.
“The decision by the administrative law judge validates what the Board of Regents has always maintained. It followed all the proper procedures and had statutory authority to modify the State University System admissions rules,” Herbert said in a statement.
NAACP officials have not decided whether to appeal the decision, says John Newton, the group’s attorney.
Meanwhile, Herbert announced in May that more than 7,000 students who graduated in the top 20 percent of their public high school class have received letters from the chancellor encouraging them to apply for admission to a state university.
The letters were sent to those Talented 20 students who have not applied to any of Florida’s 10 public universities. About one-third of the 7,038 students that received letters are minority students.
The State University System did not implement the Talented 20 program in spring admissions decisions because of the NAACP’s legal challenge, but university officials say students in the Talented 20 who have taken the required 19 credits needed for admission to a state university would receive a guaranteed spot at one of the public institutions.       
—Jamilah Evelyn contributed to this report



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