Alabama students will be able to receive financial aid from a needs-based program included in an impending settlement that would end the state’s decades-old college desegregation case, according to attorneys on the case.
The $10 million financial aid program is just one of the terms of the settlement, which also includes sending funds to two historically Black universities — $25.8 million to Alabama State University for repairs and new programs and $7.3 million to Alabama A&M for repairs.
U.S. District Judge Harold L. Murphy issued an order Friday saying $45.5 million in surplus education budget funds should be used to settle major issues in the case, which stemmed from the U.S. Department of Education’s 1979 finding that there were still traces of segregation in Alabama’s college system.
The Education Department sued Alabama in 1981 after university leaders failed to agree on a plan to correct the problem.
Attorney Robert Hunter, who began representing the state in 1988, says the case should be resolved in a maximum of two months. Lawyers for both parties are working out a final version of the settlement, which also sets aside $1 million in attorney fees and $1.5 million for other court costs.
Everybody wins, Hunter says.
“That’s one of the interesting things about this,” he says. “Fortunately, throughout this litigation we’ve had leaders on all sides … who have wanted to use this for the good of education and not as some power play or some attempt to get money or more turf.
“The needs-based scholarship program will benefit all students with need, Black or White, and so I think we can all take pride in knowing that this settlement will benefit our education in Alabama,” he continues.
The settlement includes a five-year implementation period for changes to be made, but Hunter says it is unlikely that any of the proposed terms would need that time. He says the financial aid program, which would be open to students of all races, would most likely be guaranteed for one year, and the Alabama Legislature would be sought to continue funding the program.
A fourth trial in the case was set to begin on Oct. 10, but attorneys will now use that time to present Murphy with the finalized settlement.
Murphy is based in Rome, Ga., but has been traveling to Birmingham for years to preside over the case. He oversaw two of the three major higher education trials in the suit and issued far-reaching rulings in 1991 and 1995.
James U. Blacksher, who is representing the state’s two historically Black schools, says a lot was gained by enduring over the long haul instead of accepting initial offers by the state.
“All the states that ended up in court … ended up I think with a lot more money invested by the states in the historically Black colleges and a lot broader sets of issues,” he says. “For example, in Alabama there’s been a lot more attention given to increasing Black representation on the faculties at the historically White schools.”
Hunter says research by his firm has found that improvements have been made in increasing the number of Black students in higher education and the number of Black faculty members at White universities over the past 10 years.
— Associated Press
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