Ayers university endowment far short of $35M goal

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Only $1 million has been raised for a planned $35 million private endowment that was part of the settlement in October 2004 of the Ayers college desegregation case.
Members of the Board of Trustees of state Institutions of Higher Learning plan to renew efforts to fund the endowment in the coming months.
“It has not been focused on as much as it should be,” said College Board member Bob Owens of Jackson, who will chair a committee to secure donations for the fund.
“It is part of the agreement. We need to put forth a good-faith effort.”
The agreement came as a result of a 1975 lawsuit that alleged the state operated an unequal higher education system that discriminated against African-Americans. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court before it was finally settled in 2004 with the agreement that more than $500 million in state funds would be pumped into the university system over a period of time to enhance the three historically black universities and to improve learning opportunities for minority students.
As part of the agreement, two endowments were established – a public one funded by the state and a private one. At the time, there was a commitment from various state leaders to assist in raising funds for the private endowment.
Endowment goals
The goals of the endowments were to aid the three black universities in recruiting “other-race” students to their campuses and to enhance their academic programs.
The public endowment is funded through a $5 million state appropriation for 14 years. During the 2012 legislative session, $390,600 from earnings on the public endowment was appropriated to Jackson State University while Mississippi Valley and Alcorn State received $254,700 each.
“Recruiting students and enhancing academic programs are critical issues for all universities,” said Hank Bounds, higher education commissioner. “This endowment fund can help provide our historically black universities with additional resources to address these issues.”
Ed Blakeslee of Gulfport, chairman of the College Board, said soon after the settlement was reached, then-University of Mississippi Chancellor Robert Khayat secured $1 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for the private endowment. Nothing else has been done.
“It is a bad time to do it” because of the economy, Blakeslee conceded. “But we’ve got to start sometime. I don’t expect to raise $34 million this year.”
While it is a difficult time to raise funds, Blakeslee said, “Our universities need additional resources now more than ever. It is important that we explore every possible avenue to help them succeed and we intend to do that with regard to the Ayers private endowment fund.”
JSU President Carolyn Meyers said reaching the settlement goal of $35 million “will be tremendously helpful to us as we work to increase our student body and continue to provide excellent academic offerings.”
This is not the first time IHL officials have announced a commitment to work to meet the goals of the private endowment. Previous efforts have not been met with any success.
In October 2009, during a previous announcement of a renewed effort toward the fund, former JSU President Ronald Mason advocated asking the Legislature to continue the $5 million appropriation until a total of $105 million was placed in the public endowment and to give up on efforts to fund the private endowment.
Mason pointed out $105 million would represent the total of the private and public endowments agreed to in the 2004 settlement.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com