Federal Judge Halts $3.5 Million Appropriation to Miss. Colleges
Officials say action against Black schools shows need to settle desegregation suit
JACKSON, Miss. — More than $3.5 million allocated for Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State universities related to the state’s college desegregation case has been disapproved by a federal judge.
As he had warned the College Board and the Legislature in March, U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. says the money was not being spent for programs he ordered.
Biggers, whose ruling was made public early last month, has said he would stop the College Board from spending any money that he believed did not comply with his order five years ago requiring the state to finance programs to bring more Whites to the historically Black campuses.
But Alcorn State President Dr. Clinton Bristow Jr. says that Biggers’ ruling may be a step backward in efforts to end the 25-year-old desegregation case.
Bristow says his administrative team is “disappointed and professionally insulted” by Biggers’ ruling.
“The judge is saying ‘diversify Alcorn,’ and here I had a chance at $1.8 million to do that,” Bristow says. “All of that now is on hold and, to be quite frank, down the drain.”
Bristow adds that he hopes this latest uproar will spur parties to work faster for a settlement and avoid the continued frustrations of “stop-start situations.”
Biggers approved $3.55 million to Jackson State and $9.5 million to build a graduate business school on Alcorn State’s Natchez campus.
But the State College Board, in deciding where the money would go, approved $1.775 million each for Alcorn and Mississippi Valley.
The money was supposed to be used to improve teacher education, computer science, business and environmental health at Mississippi Valley. The appropriation also included funds to add to the library in those four academic areas and $215,000 for admission and recruitment of other-race students.
At Alcorn State, the plan was to use state appropriations to improve teacher education, computer science, science and mathematics, management, industrial technology and nursing, as well as recruiting White students.
Biggers says none of the latest money was for improvements he ordered at the schools. For example, he says there was nothing in his order that called for library improvements at Itta Bena-based Valley or various funds for administrative expenditures.
He says lawmakers and the College Board, which oversees Mississippi’s eight public universities, must rework the allocations.
“I hate to see any penny withdrawn from either of those universities because they desperately need the revenue,” says Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, a Black leader in the Legislature and a Valley alumnus. “Anything taken away from them is a setback.”
Carl Nicholson, chairman of the College Board, says Biggers’ order will prevent some new programs but will not affect existing programs at either university.
“Those were things we want and we need, but when a federal judge is involved in that kind of matter, his word is the last word,” says Sen. Johnnie Walls, D-Greenville, another Black leader in the Legislature.
Walls also says the decision illustrates the need for the state to settle the lawsuit so “we’re in control, not the courts.”
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has called for a series of meetings to hopefully resolve the decades-old case (see Black Issues, July 6). Plaintiffs, College Board and state officials all say they are anxious to settle the case by the close of the year.
Biggers approved the $3.55 million allocated to Jackson State, Mississippi’s other traditionally Black institution, out of a total $16.7 million approved by the 2000 Legislature. He also approved $9.5 million for construction of a building to house a business school at Alcorn State.
“The appearance of these symmetrical amounts is that the board first determined the amounts to be requested from the Legislature and then determined the programs to fund,” Biggers wrote.
He says the action made it appear that he supported such funding.
“The obvious approach is to look at the programs and facilities ordered by this court” in 1995 and let that decree determine the amount of money each school should get, the judge says.
Meanwhile, College Board officials say they believe program studies, to be completed by year’s end, will provide an objective and reliable assessment of appropriate academic programs for Valley and Alcorn State.
Pam Smith, spokeswoman for the College Board, says the program studies may be the key to recovering the money.
“I think the judge has made it clear that he wants to see the complete program studies before we receive money,” Smith says.
— The Associated Press
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