JACKSON – Higher education officials, including Commissioner Hank Bounds, made a renewed commitment this week to build up a private endowment for Mississippi’s three historically black universities, but many were skeptical that the effort would succeed.
The private endowment was discussed Thursday at the IHL offices during a meeting of a committee designed to oversee the investments for the two endowments, one public and the other private, established as part of the final settlement in 2004 of the Ayers College desegregation case.
The lawsuit claimed the state’s predominantly black universities were underfunded. The settlement between the state and the plaintiffs called for a $70 million public endowment generated from a $5 million annual legislative appropriation and a $35 million private endowment.
A recent report by the Legislative Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee critically noted that state higher education officials had raised only $1 million for the private endowment.
The earnings from the endowment are supposed to fund efforts to attract other-race students to the historically black schools and to eventually enhance other areas of the universities.
“At the time this was agreed upon, we had a lot better financial outlook,” said College Board member Scott Ross of West Point. “Everybody was more optimistic about the ability to raise money…I don’t know if any of us have (or has) done all we should do, including me.”
Bounds said he would pursue potential outlets to raise the money. Ross pointed out that when the settlement was reached, it was agreed that then-University of Mississippi Chancellor Robert Khayat and then-Mississippi State President Malcolm Potera would help raise the funds.
But Portera left Mississippi State University shortly after that and Khayat stepped down recently as Ole Miss chancellor.
“It is really hard for one institution to raise money for another,” said Jackson State President Ronald Mason. “In all candor we need to admit it is not going to happen.”
Mason said higher education officials should ask the Legislature to continue the $5 million appropriation continue until the total of $105 million is reached.
But Bounds said higher education officials should exhaust all fundraising avenues before approaching legislators.
The three historically black universities are JSU, Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State.
Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal