Are Black Public Colleges Turning White?

Article excerpt

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. …