Hoodwinked and Bamboozled: Black Colleges, Desegregation and Selling Out

Article excerpt

It is a rainy Tuesday afternoon at the end of the semester. I am at home trying to grade final exams that are due by Friday. As I often do, I have a video playing quietly in the background. Today it has been Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" running unobtrusively on my home office television. At least until I heard Denzel Washington proclaim the words, "I say and I say it again, you've been had. You've been took. You've been hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray, run amok." Now, I have to take a break and draft a few thoughts.

The eternal words of Malcolm X regarding political maneuvering in the African American community relate strongly to recent trends regarding Black colleges and collegiate desegregation compliance, particularly court settlements. The fact that court settlements and consent decrees have become commonplace in collegiate desegregation litigation does not bode well for the future of public Black colleges. Court settlements and consent decrees are ultimate forms of trickery, misperception and "deceit." The recently approved settlement of Mississippi's Ayers/Fordice case is a prime example.

The federal government plaintiff, the state identified defendant and the court official have agreed to a $503 million settlement (see Black Issues, May 10, 2001). The settlement is to be executed over a period of 17 years, (i.e. $29 million per year). The funds are to be divided among three public historically Black colleges in the state, (i.e. less than $10 million a year per institution). The funds focus primarily on addressing deferred maintenance on the physical plants resulting from years of inequitable funding by state higher education governance structures. With the remaining resources, institutions are to improve their academic programs and grow the institutional endowment. In exchange for the above, the state of Mississippi is held harmless for over 130 years of racial discrimination manifested in disproportionate funding, disparate impact and bureaucratic maltreatment.

The epistemology of absolution inherent in collegiate desegregation court settlement has long-term implications for institutional funding, capacity and development between the public Black institutions. Court settlements in collegiate desegregation flee states from the penalties or consequences of their actions. The agreement is final and legally binding. There is no further negotiation; the differences have been settled. The case is closed.

This trend is not a surprise to me. I warned higher education policy-makers of the implications to collegiate desegregation compliance of allowing the federal plaintiff to usurp the private plaintiffs in my book, The Quest to Define Collegiate Desegregation: Black Colleges, Title VI Compliance, and Post-Adams Litigation (Bergin & Garvey, 1999). …