Judge Says Pluses Came From Mississippi’s College Desegregation Case
Afederal judge who presided over Mississippi’s college desegregation lawsuit says the main plus of the case is that the new admission standards are now such that Black students can easily attend any university in the state.
However, U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. said the courts “are not supposed to run higher education. They are only supposed to provide an equal playing field. It’s for the Legislature and administration to run higher education.”
Biggers presided over the case for 20 years. He initially dismissed the lawsuit but it was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1992. The Supreme Court on Oct. 18 refused to hear an appeal from a group of plaintiffs opposed to a settlement of the case.
The state and most plaintiffs agreed in 2002 to a settlement that would distribute $503 million over 17 years to the three historically Black universities. Payments have been on hold pending appeals by a small group of plaintiffs, including Lillie Ayers of Glen Allan, widow of Jake Ayers Sr., who filed the suit in 1975 on behalf of his children and other Black college students.
Biggers said over the years, the tone of the case changed.
“The remedy for the situation was not to enhance segregated facilities, but to desegregate the facilities. Some of the plaintiffs, it seemed, wanted equal, segregated facilities,” Biggers told The Clarion-Ledger in a recent interview.
Alvin O. Chambliss Jr., the original plaintiff attorney and the attorney for Lillie B. Ayers, and other plaintiffs dissatisfied with the settlement, said the case has meant affirmative action for White students and denial of equal opportunity for Black students.
“If that’s desegregation, we lost,” Chambliss said. “It was a noble effort, but we lost.”
Chambliss said desegregation was achieved the way White people define it: by having more Black people go to White schools.
Chambliss said the way he defines desegregation — more Black students at both Black and White universities and more White students at Black universities — has not happened.
Biggers said the settlement was reasonable.
“It was what all the parties wanted done. It did not violate the Constitution. It maybe went beyond what the Constitution required,” he said.
Biggers said the open admissions plan submitted early on would have driven up dropout rates.
Students would have “gone to college who were not prepared to go to college,” he said. At a number of universities with open admissions across the nation, it has been “a disaster,” he said.
“The main plus of the case is that the new admission standards are now such that an African American can go to Ole Miss as easily as they can go to Mississippi Valley State and historically White colleges are open to Blacks and Whites,” Biggers said.
To meet regular admission standards, students need at least a 2.5 grade-point average in college-prep classes and a 16 on the ACT college entrance exam or a 2.0 GPA with an 18 on the ACT.
Admission requirements were changed after plaintiffs argued that requiring an ACT score of 15 for regular admission to the five historically White universities kept some Black students from attending. The three historically Black universities — Mississippi Valley State, Jackson State and Alcorn State — required a 13, but some students got in with at least a 9.
Summer programs were implemented for students who don’t meet regular admission standards.
Biggers said he hopes the state finds the money “without an undue burden on taxpayers.”
“I always thought the state could ill afford the amount of a half billion extra over the normal budgets” into the three historically Black universities, Biggers said.
In addition, Mississippi Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and House Speaker J.P. Compretta said that they intend to fulfill their commitment to fund the settlement of the state’s college desegregation lawsuit.
“Now that this case has been settled we fully intend to comply with the implement of the settlement agreement,” Compretta said. “We have both a legal and a moral obligation to adequately fund our historically Black universities.”
— The Associated Press
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com