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College desegregation settlement approved

By Staff
from staff and wire reports
Feb. 16, 2002
JACKSON It will cost the state at least $500 million over the next 17 years, but officials on Friday greeted with enthusiasm news that a federal judge has approved a desegregation plan for Mississippi's universities.
Crawford noted the agreement had required the efforts of a number of individuals and agencies, including all three branches of state government, plaintiffs in the long-running case and others.
There can be no better example of effective collaborative leadership,'' Crawford said.
Friday's order by U.S. district Judge Neal Biggers Jr. comes a month after Mississippi lawmakers pledged to fulfill the requirements of the settlement, expected to cost more than a half-billion dollars. His order signals an end to a 27-year-old legal battle.
The lawsuit was filed in 1975 by the late Jake Ayers, the father of a black college student, who accused the state of neglecting its three historically black universities for decades. In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed and ordered remedies.
Senate Universities and Colleges Committee Chairman Terry Burton, D-Newton, said he hopes the judge's action is the end of a long and difficult case.''
Hopefully, the three predominantly black universities will see the benefits of our efforts … and we can move forward with a fair and equitable (college) system,'' Burton said.
It is the first time I can remember when the government, the attorneys, the Legislature, the Justice Department and the plaintiffs have agreed to put something behind them and move on,'' said Anderson, who now practices law in Jackson. I think every citizen in Mississippi will benefit from this.''
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who had brought the parties together to work on a settlement, praised Biggers' action.
Today is a good day for the State of Mississippi. Through our efforts and hard work over the last 18 months, we are able to end a lawsuit that has tied the hands of our universities for 27 years. This is truly a defining moment for the State of Mississippi,'' Musgrove said in a statement.
He said the settlement was in the best interest of our state and higher education.'' He praised effort of the plaintiffs, the College Board and the Legislature.
Biggers had said he would approve the settlement only if lawmakers demonstrated they would support it financially. It would be paid over 17 years, with some money coming from private endowments.
The settlement calls for $246 million to be spent on academic programs at the state's traditionally black institutions Jackson State University, Alcorn State University, and Mississippi Valley State University.
An additional $75 million would go to capital improvement projects, $70 million to public endowments and up to $35 million for private endowments. Other programs, including summer classes for struggling students, will receive the balance.
Another unfortunate chapter in Mississippi's past is being rewritten by the approval of this historic settlement benefiting the three historically black universities in Mississippi,'' said U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., an original plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Opponents of the settlement have pledged to continue the legal battle. They say the state may have bartered in good faith, but the settlement was flawed and expensive.
Some Legislative Black Caucus members had said they were disappointed the settlement didn't provide more to the three historically black universities.
It's not the best deal in the world, but it's the best deal we could get in the climate we live in today,'' said Sen. John Horhn, D-Jackson, a caucus member.
In his order, Biggers noted that the final agreement was different from the court's proposed settlement.
However, if the state of Mississippi through its elected representatives, the policy-makers of this state, wants to go further in the enhancements to the historically black institutions than called for by the court and they have advised the court they do then their actions take precedence,'' the judge said.