Florida Gov. Jeb Bush

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WOMENSENEWS)–Admissions of women, as a group, to state colleges declined this year apparently as a result of Florida’s self-proclaimed “race- and gender-neutral” college admissions programs, according to first-year results recently released by Gov. Jeb Bush, brother of the U.S. president.

“Do we have to do more? Absolutely,” said Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan when releasing the numbers earlier this month. “We are not satisfied with these numbers. We have much to do.”

The results are ironic in that the National Organization for Women was the first to be booted out of a court case challenging the plan, leaving the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to go it alone.

And, last week, attorneys for the state argued before the Tallahassee Court of Appeals that the NAACP has no standing in the case either. Standing in legal cases means that the person or organization has a direct relationship to the matter at hand. The three-judge panel will issue a written ruling some time in the next few months.

The NAACP has argued the Florida governor’s new rules were a revolutionary change in policy that should be made only by state lawmakers, not the governor or an executive agency.

“The question here is: ‘Must the legislature specifically tell the administrative agency what rules it must make?'” NAACP attorney Mitchell Berger told the panel, which was made up of Judges Peter Webster, Edwin Browning Jr. and Ricky Polston.

But Carol Licko, a Miami attorney and former general counsel for Bush, argued not only that the NCAAP did not have the standing to bring the challenges, but also that there were at least three statutes providing the basis for the rules challenged by the NAACP.

Minority Admissions Increased Slightly; Women’s Enrollment Dropped

Minority freshman admissions to state universities increased slightly this fall, from 36.5 percent to 36.7 percent of the 18,527 new students statewide, following the first full year of Bush’s One Florida alternative to affirmative action. It was the lowest minority gain in five years.

The number of women starting their first year at Florida’s 11 universities declined by seven-tenths of a percent, from 57.2 percent to 56.5 percent, during the same period.

And the decline was felt the most at the state flagship, the University of Florida in Gainesville, and Florida A and M University, a historically African American college, as well as Florida International University. At University of Florida in Gainesville, women dropped from 56.3 percent to 54.4 percent of the 3,473 entering freshmen. At Florida A and M University in Tallahassee, women dropped from 59.1 percent to 57.8 percent of 1,384 freshmen, and at predominantly Hispanic Florida International University in Miami, women dropped from 59.5 percent to 54.0 percent of 1,477 students.

“Florida NOW has been very concerned how One Florida impacts women, the forgotten minority,” said Tallahassee attorney Linda Miklowitz who is filing a friend of the court brief on behalf of NOW. “The governor seems to deliberately ignore women in this equation, and it is even more pervasive in that there are more women to be affected, especially concerning the disproportionately low number of women in the hard sciences.”

Bush’s One Florida plan, enacted by gubernatorial edict, did away with a provision to set aside 5 percent of state contracts for women and minority men as well as admissions policies for the state university system designed to increase the presence of women and male minority students.

One Florida Replaced Affirmative Action

The plan was challenged by NOW and the NAACP, and last year an administrative judge upheld rules implementing Bush’s initiative and his Talented 20 guarantee.

One Florida eliminates race or gender as a factor in university admissions, while Talented 20 guarantees admission to the top 20 percent of each of Florida’s graduating public high school classes. Bush has argued that will boost diversity by itself.

Bush has praised the One Florida plan as a good alternative to affirmative action plans that increasingly are being struck down by the courts. The most recent case was last month, when the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled against a University of Georgia policy that awarded bonus points in the admission process to African American students.

However, the policy still draws considerable criticism, and advocates for women and minority men say that Gov. Bush’s anti-affirmative action plan would have been badly defeated at the polls if he had put forward a statewide ballot proposition to do away with the 5 percent set-asides for women and minority men.

Prof. Nancy MarcusState education officials plan to meet next month to discuss ways to improve universities’ track records in attracting a diverse student body. No one seems to know why the number of women is dropping while the state pumped millions into alternative ethnic recruiting programs and race-blind admissions policies. Nor do officials know at this time whether the drop in women is seen, as some predict, most heavily in already women-short career paths such as math, computers and hard sciences.

White women constituted 37.9 percent of the U.S. population and 34.7 percent of the U.S. workforce, but only 15.4 percent of the U.S. science, engineering and technology workforce in 1997, according to a September 2000 study by the Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology. It is thought that minority women’s participation is even lower, according to the study, called “Land of Plenty: Diversity as America’s Competitive Edge in Science, Engineering and Technology.”

The study found that encouraging female students in high school and college to go into technical fields would benefit not only the women, but the U.S. economy as well, as the educated women would fill high-tech jobs from a still-small labor pool.

“To the extent that engineering is a pale male profession, which it largely is, it is impoverished,” said William A. Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering, in the report.

New Program in Florida Encourages Women in Hard Sciences

One bright spot for women in higher education can be found at Florida State University in Tallahassee. The former college for women did lose female freshmen this year, dropping from 58.9 percent to 58.1 percent of the 3,389 entering the university. But a new program is trying to interest more of them in the hard sciences.

Women in Math, Science and Engineering, or WIMSE, is one of the university’s trademark “living-learning” programs, where women in the same fields are housed together, assigned mentors and provided more in-depth training to keep them from being discouraged and changing to more conventional career tracks.

“We hope the program will serve as a focal point for these women while they’re at Florida State University,” said the program’s coordinator, Nancy Marcus, an oceanography professor there. “We’re trying to encourage the participation of women in these specific fields and we’re working on their retention in sciences, so we don’t lose them along the way.”

Nancy Cook Lauer is a journalist covering state government in Tallahassee, Fla.

For further information:

Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology Development:

“Equity in Academia: Where Are Women in Chemistry?” CLASnotes, August 2001, University of Florida College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: