jennifer-carroll-4_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

Florida’s history-making Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll is being put in the hot seat over a proposal by Gov. Rick Scott to cut funding for the state’s two private predominantly black universities.

Speaking at a ceremony where one of those two schools, Florida Memorial University, honored Carroll for becoming the first black elected to the state’s number-two spot, the lieutenant governor promised FMU will get funding.

Carroll did not say why she and her boss appear to differ on this issue and a phone call from South Florida Times seeking comment was not returned.

But state Rep. Barbara Watson, whose legislative district includes Miami Gardens-based FMU, said she is aware of Carroll’s comments at the school “and I’m just going to see how much influence she may be able to impose on the governor.”

“If the lieutenant governor is able to encourage the governor to allow adequate funding for the HBCUs, this would be fantastic,” Watson said in a phone interview from Tallahassee, where she was attending meetings.

Watson, who is on the House education committee, said Scott’s proposed budget cuts would reduce funding for FMU and Bethune Cookman University in Daytona Beach by about 23 percent or $7.3 million.

Some reports say BCU would lose about $2 million, meaning that Florida Memorial would be hit with a $5.3 million cut.

Such a shortfall would likely stymie plans by FMU’s new president, Henry Lewis III, to take the school to a higher level of excellence and to more than double the student population over the next 10 years.

Watson said Lewis deserves support of his vision for Florida Memorial.

“Funding is crucial to the plans and goals that we have and I certainly believe the new president of the university will be able to take that school to another level,” Watson said. “We need to be supportive of him and I think we should allow our lieutenant governor to try to encourage our governor to do the necessary and appropriate funding so they can reach those heights. I think it can be accomplished, and I think we should give the lieutenant governor the opportunity to show us how she can achieve this.”

Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, which is a member of the state university system, is not included in Scott’s budget proposal. And some students do not have confidence that Carroll will have any influence on the governor.

Lucas Melton, a senior and a member of the FAMU debate team, saw Carroll’s comments to the Florida Memorial audience as “politics as usual.” 

“We celebrated her accomplishments as a black woman but we do not support her political ideology and alliances at all,” Melton said in a phone interview from Tallahassee.

The political science and pre-law student said he and other students were very upset at Scott’s proposed budget cuts for HBCUs because the opportunity for low-income students to attend college would be at stake.

Without the funding, the HBCUs could cease to exist, said Melton. Students were planning rallies and other measures to stop Scott’s plans before they become final.

“HBCU’s lead the nation in accepting first-generation college students,” said Jamal Rose, a FAMU senior who is working alongside Melton on the issue.

“These institutions have historically offered students like me opportunities that might not otherwise be available,” Rose stated in a press release.

Daphne Taylor may be reached at