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Interview with Cornelius Minor
Florida A&M student-body president

"One Florida" assumes that inequities
don’t exist any more

Gov Jeb Bush's "One Florida" and
Ward Connerly's anti-affirmative action initiative

, Florida

Cornelius Minor is student-body president at Florida A&M (Agricultural and Mechanical) University (FAMU). FAMU is in Tallahassee, the state capital, located in northern central Florida. This interview was conducted (from San Diego by phone) by Nic Paget-Clarke, March 18, 2000.

“One Florida” was initiated by Governor Jeb Bush in November 1999 and passed at the Board of Regents level (the regents of Florida’s state education institutions) in February 2000. Gov Bush proposed One Florida soon after Ward Connerly announced the Florida version of his anti-affirmative action initiative. Ward Connerly has sponsored successful anti-affirmative action initiatives in California and Washington state.

In Motion Magazine: Is One Florida a good thing?

Cornelius Minor: It depends on how you look at it. The governor has set up One Florida in a really interesting way. For me to say that it's a bad thing, totally, would be a bit judgmental because there are some positive parts of the plan. He has things in there for education -- some suggestions to redirect funding, and some programs to include PSAT testing for some high school kids. But the net benefits aren't there. That's why so many people are opposed to One Florida.

In Motion Magazine: What do you think of Ward Connerly’s initiative?

Cornelius Minor: Now I’m definitely not for Mr. Connerly’s initiative. I’m a proponent of what affirmative action attempts to do as far as leveling the playing field for women and African Americans and other minorities. Although affirmative action is on its death bed, it’s incumbent upon the people to find a way to accomplish the original goals of that program -- to make sure that all people are protected when it comes to hiring and education. Ward Connerly takes all that away - all of the autonomy of the people. It’s not good for progress and it’s definitely not good for what we perceive to be democracy.

In Motion Magazine: I understand you met with the governor?

Cornelius Minor: Yes, several times.

In Motion Magazine: How are those meetings? What does he say to you and what do you say to him?

Cornelius Minor: Those meetings have been diplomatic of course. He is very much in favor of his plan and he still contends to this day that his plan was done in his best faith that Floridians will do the right thing. But One Florida leaves a lot of power in the hands of the executive, expecting that they will do the right thing without set-aside guidelines. A lot of people don’t see that good will in effect.

We’ve talked over a number of things. Our students at FAMU have been very practical as far as addressing his plan. We’ve put together several suggestions. The students at this university, and I representing those students, are definitely not in favor of removing race and gender preferences. But, if in fact they are to be removed, because there’s a lot that goes on in the government that people just can’t say no to, if in fact they are to be removed, then there’s a way that we’d like to see that happen to protect the interest of all Floridians and all citizens who happen to be admitted in to the University or hired under these guidelines.

Our talks have gone over a wide range of activities and he’s sought our favor. But that’s one thing that I will not allow him to have because even though his plan is packaged with several nice aspects, it is overall not productive. This plan assumes that Florida is an ideal state but it really isn’t, it really isn’t.

In Motion Magazine: What do you mean by an ideal state?

Cornelius Minor: The One Florida plan leaves a lot to those in power, elected officials, those hiring or those admitting students to higher ed. It assumes that inequities don’t exist any more. It leaves all hiring, all admission decisions up to the respective bodies that make those decisions. And so if biases exist within those bodies, within those committees, within those managers who hire employees, then those biases will be allowed to run rampant. There will be no system of checks and balances to make sure that people hire the correct number of women or the correct number of minorities. It’s a quick assumption I think. The ideal state that the governor thinks exists now would be great and I’d like to work towards something like that, but that’s not something that you have in 2000.

In Motion Magazine: A&M is predominantly African American?

Cornelius Minor: Yes it’s the largest historically Black university on a single campus in the United States.

In Motion Magazine: How did that come to be?

Cornelius Minor: It was founded in 1887 as a land grant institution. It was founded as Florida A&M College for Negroes. In 1887 in the South, of course, you couldn’t go to school so this school was set up with some federal and some state money to mainly educate teachers and farmers in the African American community. Since then it has expanded and we offer more baccalaureate degrees to African Americans than any other institution. We have a very rich heritage as far as serving the African American community in Florida, and nationally.

In Motion Magazine: Is One Florida going to effect your school in particular?

Cornelius Minor: Yes it will because it effects all of the ten state institutions.

Florida A&M is in a very sensitive position because, as you know, the governor guaranteed admission for the top 20% of all high schools. This is going to flood Florida A&M with more African Americans who aren’t getting into the other institutions because of race and gender. And right now our school is at max. We are proud of that because we are proud of the fact that students have a great desire to attend Florida A&M University but we don’t want to overcrowd our school with students who have been traditionally attending other Florida institutions. It’s going to upset the balance. The racial balance. It’s going to create a caste system again, an educational caste system. Where you have all the minorities at one school and the majority at another school. Then you get into deeper issues like who is getting what allocations and why. The fear factor is great. That’s the greatest effect that it has had on Florida A&M so far.

But I cannot fully outline how One Florida will effect Florida A&M because One Florida has happened so fast. The governor announced this plan in November and said it would go into effect the following school year without doing any research, without doing case studies, without doing regional studies, without doing one year, two year, three year projections. So nobody knows. We won’t know until it comes down on us. That’s everybody’s biggest complaint.

With something this big you have to ask yourself is it really the wisest thing and is it the right thing? In this case, a lot of people say “no” because it’s been rushed and put across so many desks without going in front of the public. This leaves a lot of room for suspicion. And rightfully so. A lot of citizens of Florida both Black and white, male and female are suspicious of what this governor is trying to do.

In Motion Magazine: What do you think is the future for affirmative action?

Cornelius Minor: I believe that it’s on it’s death bed. But it’s now incumbent upon the citizens of Florida, upon the citizens of the United States to find a better way. We’ve really got to put heads together to find good solutions. To receive solutions from a governor who is of one persuasion isn’t enough. It’s really not enough. From my vantage point the future is very bleak because you’ve got lots of people in the community who are quick to criticize but who don’t want to sit down to the table and actually carve out a new future for affirmative action for minorities, for women in higher education. It makes it very hard when you’ve got some segments of the community who are holding on to the old way and not realizing that the old way might not necessarily be the best way.

On the side of the community you’ve got a lot of people who see that and who are working towards progress but we’ve got to make sure that everybody is on that same page. That in itself is going to take a while and we don’t need One Florida around while we are going through that growth process.

In Motion Magazine: What do you think of the prospects of education for students of color?

Cornelius Minor: It’s getting to be really bad out there. Opportunities are fewer and fewer and it seems like the playing field is getting more and more competitive. While the number of African Americans in college is at its peak right now, and the number of African Americans attaining degrees and PhD’s is going well, it’s always the question of access. Some people historically in America have had more access and with programs like One Florida in place jeopardizing that access, jeopardizing people’s belief in themselves even, it really doesn’t lend too much to our future. It leaves a lot of it on us.

Of course it’s my belief that all people should be self-determining people but when inequities exist it’s a little bit harder for some groups to be self-determining than others.

In Motion Magazine: Why do you think affirmative action is being eliminated?

Cornelius Minor: It’s something that was created in a time when it was the sort of solution that was needed. But time has passed, and though the need is still there the solution or prescription to fill that need isn’t quite the same. The solution hasn’t evolved with the need.

But it doesn’t need to be taken away. Reform is a real popular word nowadays but the people who are doing the reforming aren’t necessarily thinking with all the sensitivities of women and of minorities in Florida and in the United States.

In Motion Magazine: Do you think the governor is going to be successful in implementing One Florida?

Cornelius Minor: He has been to date because he’s the governor and he did it in the form of an executive order. There’s no way to really check that. It has been signed into law from his office. As long as he’s the executive his wishes are being obeyed. It’s a scary thing to know that we’ve been denied that much power as citizens of Florida.

In Motion Magazine: What do you think will happen to Connerly’s initiative.

Cornelius Minor: I really don’t know. I have a lot of theories but, as I keep saying, this One Florida took a lot of people by surprise and the research just hasn’t been done. Nobody will really know until it’s in place and we are living it. And for a lot of us, including me, that’s too late.

In Motion Magazine: How are students responding to One Florida?

Cornelius Minor: Students have been very very supportive of our efforts against the removal of the positives that affirmative action has tried to create. As a matter of fact that’s been a really great uniting force for our students.

In Motion Magazine: How does the student support manifest itself?

Cornelius Minor: We had a public protest last month that went very well. We have several letter writing campaigns. We have several students who are now educating themselves on the finer points of this plan. It’s not enough just to watch the news. We have students who have actually gotten copies of the plan and have read it from cover to cover. Students are sitting in research study groups and think tanks trying to find solutions other than One Florida. We realize that affirmative action isn’t the political toy of the day, the soup de jour, we know we have to find solutions, and the people who have been coming up with those solutions so far aren’t from our community. They don’t look like us so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to find our own solutions. We are going to propose them to members of the state Senate, the state House and the governor’s office. We’ve broken up his plan issue by issue and we’ve attacked, amended or deleted each issue as we’ve seen fit and given a justification why.

We are working towards solutions. We want the best for Florida. This is our future. Until the climate of Florida can support One Florida we need to find something else and we are in the process of finding that something else.

Published in In Motion Magazine April 10, 2000.

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