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Florida postpones vote on using race in admissions

Responding in part to two Florida legislators' display of civil disobedience, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) along with the Adam Herbert, State University System of Florida chancellor, postponed a vote Wednesday on Bush's plan to eliminate the use of race in Florida public university admissions.

The two Florida lawmakers, Sen. Kendrick Meek and Rep. Tony Hill, along with about 100 other participants, spent Tuesday night in the lieutenant governor's office before Bush agreed to discuss the matter with them.

The State University System of Florida's Board of Regents were originally scheduled to vote on Bush's "One Florida Initiative" this morning. The plan calls for the state university system to drop the use of racial, ethnic or gender considerations in their admissions process. Instead, students in the top 20 percent of each public high school will be admitted automatically to the Florida public university system.

"There was no hesitation on the chancellor's part" to move the meeting, said Keith Goldschmidt, Florida Board of Regents spokesperson.

Bush will incorporate the opinions of Florida constituents by holding three legislative hearings before the final vote Feb. 17.

Goldschmidt said he expects the Board of Regents to adopt the proposal. If adopted and approved by the State Board of Education, the admissions offices in Florida's state system will use the new criteria for admitting students immediately.

Kevin Mayeux, executive director of the Florida Student Association -- an umbrella organization for the state university student governing bodies -- said students are pleased that the governor is willing to discuss the issue further.

"When the governor first announced the initiative, there was a lot of skepticism and doubt," Mayeux said.

But later the student body presidents of Florida public universities privately met with Bush, he said.

"The governor gave us some verbal commitment that if an institution declines in diversity, the governor will hold the president of the institution responsible" and deal with the school's administration accordingly, he added.

Larry J. Sabato, government and foreign affairs professor, said Bush's decision to delay the vote will not hurt him politically.

Ward Connerly, who has been mounting an attack on affirmative action policies in higher education admissions around the country, is not popular with blacks, Sabato said.

"So long as Governor Bush is seen as trying to keep Florida from embracing Ward Connerly's ideas about affirmative action, he'll probably be all right in the long run," he said.

He added that it was a smart political move for Bush to negotiate with the protesters.

"Bush could not afford to have black leaders conducting a lengthy sit-in in the governor's office," Sabato said.