ORLANDO, Fla. The State University System’s Board of Regents Thursday approved rules eliminating race and sex as considerations for college admissions at Florida’s 10 public universities.
The 14-member panel voted 12-0 in favor of Gov. Jeb Bush’s One Florida plan after a heated public hearing during which the governor was compared to Adolf Hitler.
The proposal ends race and sex preferences in admissions to state universities and in granting state contracts. Two members were not present for the vote.
Mr. Bush contends the plan will help minorities by increasing outreach efforts and by admitting the top 20 percent of each high school senior class into state universities.
Hundreds of college students, elected officials and others came from around the state to the regents’ meeting at the University of Central Florida (UCF).
Most said the One Florida plan would result in fewer minorities attending state universities.
“This plan looks very good on paper,” said Telisha Terry, 21, a UCF student. “But if you really think about it, the top 20 percent of students go to college anyway.”
Thursday’s session grew heated with the comments of the Rev. Frank Williams, a Tampa minister.
“You say Bush, I say ‘Heil Hitler,’ ” Mr. Williams shouted. “He is nothing but a dictator, and I guarantee we as a people in America will not stand for a dictator in Florida.”
That raised the ire of Regent Steven Uhlfelder.
“For you to compare this governor to Hitler is totally irresponsible, and I’m not going to sit here and listen to that,” Mr. Uhlfelder replied.
U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown said the governor and state officials could not be trusted to admit enough minority students.
“We do not live in a colorblind society. Race is still a factor,” said the Jacksonville Democrat. “I’m very disappointed with what’s going on in Florida, and it’s an example of the ugly side of politics.”
In addition, the regents approved a system to admit students who do not meet minimum admission criteria by using a “student profile assessment,” which considers factors like socioeconomic status, whether a student’s parents went to college, and whether a high school is low-performing.
Lew Oliver, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, said the changes would head off a proposed ballot measure by California businessman Ward Connerly to do away with all preference programs in Florida, going much further than Mr. Bush’s plan.
“Sometimes you don’t have a choice,” Mr. Oliver said of Mr. Bush’s proposal. “Sometimes you don’t have a perfect option.”
The rule changes must still go before the governor and independently elected Cabinet, which is to consider the matter Tuesday.
A few people at the meeting spoke in favor of the rule changes.
“We should not cling to policies that are not based on merit,” said Dennis Freytes, a trustee of Orlando’s Valencia Community College. “I hope you don’t let demagoguery and group politics affect your vote.”
Florida is not the first state to take on affirmative-action programs. The University of California system did away with affirmative action beginning with the undergraduate class that entered in 1998.
After a federal court ruling, Texas ended racial preferences at state schools beginning with students applying to enter in the fall of 1997. Washington state voters banned race and sex criteria in admissions starting in 1999.
The Florida Board of Regents was supposed to vote a month ago on the rules changes, but the meeting was delayed after two black lawmakers staged a 25-hour sit-in inside the governor’s office suite.
To get them out, Mr. Bush agreed to three public hearings, where the plan later came under withering criticism.
On Wednesday, Mr. Bush offered a set of modifications to the university admissions plan, including the creation of an oversight panel to make sure enough minorities were being admitted.