Legislators advocating a change in course and attitude about M

CATEGORY: EDT Editorials

AUTHOR: JOER

Legislators advocating a change in course and attitude about Mississippi’s settlement of the 21-year-old Ayers university desegregation case have chosen a better course than the one maintained for the past year.

The actions taken separately Tuesday by the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate apparently reflect new knowledge among legislative leaders about legal strategy for dealing with the case. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has set a September hearing hearing on an appeal of Northern District Federal Court Judge Neal Biggers’ order last March settling the case and requiring new programs and admission standards. The appeal was made by black plaintiffs involving part of Biggers’ order.

The action by the Appropriations Committees properly is designed to demonstrate a good faith effort by the state to comply with Biggers’ order. The committees approved different measures. The Senate committee would spend about $2 million in university reserve funds to implement new admissions standards and summertime remedial programs. The House committee’s measure would begin implementation of new academic programs at Jackson State University and Alcorn State University, both historically black institutions.

Additional funding to cover most of the remaining costs (the total compliance cost has been calculated at $21.2 million) would be guaranteed by a bond issue that would be consummated when all appeals of the case have been exhausted. House Speaker Tim Ford of Tupelo said Wednesday afternoon Gov. Fordice has indicated during the past week that he would sign such a measure because he wants the case settled and the state’s focus turned away from litigation. Ford said he believes it probable a bond bill can be passed and agreements worked out between the House and Senate on other compliance measures during this session.

The state College Board should join forces with the Legislature in a united front to move toward final settlement as quickly as possible. Moving quickly, of course, does not mean the same thing in the federal courts as in ordinary endeavors. It is nevertheless time to get the noose of the Ayers lawsuit from around Mississippi universities’ necks. One fifth of the 20th century is more than enough time to spend in settling on what is fair, equitable and balanced. Our state’s higher education system needs to refocus all its energies on excellence and useful knowledge for the 21st century.

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