Federal Judge Has Serious Reservations About Desegregation Plan
The federal judge overseeing Mississippi’s college desegregation case says he has “serious reservations” about parts of the $500 million settlement proposal.
In papers filed last month in U.S. District Court in Oxford, Judge Neal Biggers Jr. said parts of the proposal are significantly more expensive than a previous plan filed by the court in 1995.
The agreement to end the 26-year college desegregation case was submitted to Biggers on April 23 after it was signed by all sides. The plan needs Biggers’ approval.
Biggers last month cited a six-year, $68 million academic improvement plan for historically Black Jackson State University. JSU would also would get part of a $70 million tax-funded endowment.
Biggers said that in 1998, the state College Board said similar programs could be funded for $31 million over six years.
The judge scheduled a Sept. 4 “fairness hearing” on the proposed settlement. He said all parties have until July 25 to submit written statements about the plan.
Attorney General Mike Moore, who signed the settlement plan on behalf of the state, says he wasn’t surprised about Biggers’ concerns because the judge mentioned the same points during a closed meeting in March.
Moore says while the judge sees the case as a way to erase traces of segregation in Mississippi universities, negotiators took a broader view.
“We look at this as an opportunity both to settle the case and to enhance programs at historically Black universities that have been underfunded for years and years and years,” Moore says.
The agreement calls for $246 million spent over 17 years on academic programs at Jackson State and Mississippi’s two other historically Black universities — Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State (see Black Issues, May 10).
Another $75 million would go to capital improvement projects, $70 million to public endowments and up to $35 million in private endowments. Other programs would receive the balance.
Also expressing concerns about the proposed Ayers settlement is the Mississippi Coalition for Black Higher Education, which is composed primarily of the faculty senates, alumni organizations and students at the three Mississippi HBCUs.
Among the problems the coalition cites with the case is the $100 million the state is setting aside for scholarships for White students to attend HBCUs.
“This is, first and foremost hypocritical,” states the coalition’s letter. “For the past ten years, the State has promoted its anti-affirmative action stance with religious zeal. So why now is it creating an affirmative action policy for white students, when it has never done the same for black students who have been the victims of a legacy of racial discrimination in higher education.”
Dr. Ivory Phillips, president of the coalition and professor of social sciences at Jackson State University, told Black Issues that up to this point, the “powers that be have tried to avoid having conversations with us.” Phillips says the coalition plans to be involved in the September fairness hearing and will distribute a position paper on the unfairness of the proposed settlement by July 25.
The coalition’s letter concludes by saying that the proposed settlement does not do what the complaint set out to accomplish 26 years ago. “The complaint was geared to improve funding and access to a full education for blacks, but the settlement, with its set aside scholarships for whites, only improves access to a full education for whites.”
Mississippi was sued in 1975 by the late Jake Ayers, the father of a Black college student who claimed the state was neglecting historically Black schools.
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