Deadlock Could Force New Trial in Alabama College Race Bias Case

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.

A deadlock in negotiations over scholarships apparently will force another trial in the 24-year-old desegregation case against Alabama’s higher education system, attorneys said.

“The obstacles to an agreement are just too great to overcome at this time,” the case’s monitor, Carlos Gonzalez, wrote in a letter last week to U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy of Rome, Ga., who has been handling the Alabama case for years.

The chief sticking point at this stage is over the size of a scholarship program for lower-income students and whether it’s even needed for those seeking admission to Auburn and Alabama.

Murphy issued an order Monday giving the parties until Nov. 30 to file objections to the end of the two massive remedial decrees he has issued in the case. Any responses to those objections are due Jan. 6.

Robert Hunter, the state’s attorney, told The Birmingham News that he expects another trial will be needed.

“And I do not look forward to it,” he said.

Jim Blacksher, who filed the suit that started the case, said the issues that led to the breakdown in negotiations will likely be tried next spring.

The suit, filed in 1981, has seen three trials and two major orders from Murphy totaling about 1,300 pages. The state has appropriated more than $180 million to carry out Murphy’s orders.

In the latest development, negotiations have deadlocked over a proposal for need-based scholarships to help low- to moderate-income students meet the growing cost of higher education, according to Hunter.

The state had agreed to push for a fund of about $20 million that would have combined state money with federal matching dollars. It also would have included an aid program for minority doctoral students now funded by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.

The plaintiffs, Hunter said, wanted a need-based scholarship program that would have amounted to about $40 million to $50 million.

Blacksher said the figure is what Alabama would provide if its financial aid amounted to 25 percent of the federal Pell Grant college aid dollars awarded annually to students in the state.

Other states served by the Southern Regional Education Board have financial aid that amounts to about 25 percent of their Pell Grant dollars, Blacksher said.

Hunter said the state’s flagship universities, Alabama and Auburn, objected to a separate and larger state financial aid program over which they would have little control because the UA and AU systems already have aid programs of their own and feel no one is denied admission based on financial need.

Associated Press



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