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Are black public colleges turning white?

In the wake of a controversial Supreme Court decision, many historically black public colleges and universities are fighting for their breath. Last year, the High Court found in U.S. v. Fordice that the state of Mississippi had not fulfilled its legal mandate to eliminate segregation in its college and university system. The ruling stemmed from a 20-year legal battle waged by some black Mississippi residents and civil rights lawyers to win more funding for the state's black public colleges.

The Court did not draft a remedy, directing the state to come up with a better plan instead. State officials now want to further desegregate the system by merging some schools while making funding for all students more equitable. Mississippi's African-American community is incensed that part of the plan includes closing Mississippi Valley State College (located in the poverty-ridden Delta town of Itta Bena) and transferring the school's black students to a predominantly white school. But first the idea must win federal district court approval and African-Americans are preparing to do legal battle for their school.

Farther north, a similar plan, aimed at preventing further segregation, threatens to halt program expansion at Maryland's public black colleges, including Morgan State University.

The full impact of U.S. v. Fordice is unknown since it deals only with public institutions, roughly half of the nation's 107 black colleges. However, according to Howard University President Franklyng G. Jenifer,the decision will have abroad impact on the African-American community and ultimately the nation's education system.

The ruling is likely to speed up the changing complexion of black colleges, says Jenifer, bringing these schools ever closer to full integration as white enrollment increases-along with the quality of the schools. While integration is a laudatory goal, he fears that neither Congress nor the courts seem to understand the unique role of black colleges in today's largely segregated society where educational opportunities are unequal-especially for the black underclass. Black colleges, he explains, provide a nurturing educational environment for black students and a stabilizing influence in black communities. But at the same time, these colleges are viewed by many as "the last bastion [of segregation] we have to remedy," he says.

Thus, the battle for the future of black colleges places the black community in a Catch-22, in Jenifer's view. While pushing the goal of integration, they must at the same time fight the segregated nature of black colleges. Although preserving the makeup of black colleges may seem to fly in the face of the equal society blacks fought for and America embraced, Jenifer argues that the schools are crucial because they are a "first-aid station until we get a permanent cure for the illness [of racism]."

Meanwhile, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has helped mobilize funding for black colleges, since Congress' efforts on behalf of these schools has been limited, Jenifer claims. In fact, higher education legislation enacted last year authorized the Secretary of Education to insure up to $375 million in bonds to help both public and private black colleges finance capital improvement projects. The measure also authorized another $135 million in grants for fiscal year 1993 to assist some black colleges in fund-raising efforts. The bill was authored by William L. Clay, D-Mo., a senior member of the House Education and Labor Committee and Alan Wheat, D-Mo.

This year we might see a loss of black cultural identity resulting from the court ruling, Clay agrees. But, these moves grew out of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, he notes, declaring "we ought to be aware of history."
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Author:Cunningham, Kitty
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Aug 1, 1993
Words:592
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