CATEGORY: EDT Editorials
It takes time for difficult situations to reach resolution. Factors other than the central issues sometimes become entangled in a situation. That hinders, rather than promotes, solving the problem.
The Mississippi House reversed itself Wednesday and voted to obligate the state for up to $30 million as a good-faith commitment to settling the 21-year-old Ayers desegregation case. That action promotes a solution.
The late Jake Ayers filed the lawsuit in federal court claiming widespread inequities between historically black and historically white public universities in Mississippi. The United States Supreme Court ultimately agreed. The United States District Court for Northern Mississippi, following the Supreme Court’s direction, ordered a solution in 1995. However, that was appealed by the Ayers side to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The House’s vote Wednesday to commit the state to $5 million endowments at Jackson State University, Alcorn State University and Mississippi Valley State University, plus $15 million in capital improvements for Jackson State University, was recommended by the state College Board. The College Board’s attorneys and trustees reasoned (with good logic) that a substantial move toward compliance with the district court’s order could help settle the case when it comes up for a hearing in the Fifth Circuit Court later this year.
The House’s vote created unusual alliances, and many members came to support the bill from different positions. Those who voted against it did so out of conviction that it is either unnecessary or imprudent to commit the state’s money without knowing what will be required.
The argument from the College Board and its attorneys seems stronger. The state fought the Ayers case for 20 years and lost. It now faces another appeal. The settlement order issued by U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers is widely viewed as reasonable and productive. A settlement roughly within the parameters of the order would strengthen the historically black universities and put the rancor of the case to rest.
Mississippi’s universities can’t fulfill their missions with a constant civil war dividing them. A strong majority of the College Board recognizes that reality. A strong majority of the House stood Wednesday with that position. The political scenario leans toward Senate agreement with the House bill.
Mississippi’s universities and university students gain nothing by continuing indefinitely a case rooted in segregation and everything negative associated with that era. It’s time to bring Ayers to closure; the Legislature’s positive action should help that happen.