The Quest to Define Collegiate Desegregation: Black Colleges, Title VI Compliance and Post-Adams Litigation

By Loomis, Frederick D. | Black Issues in Higher Education, November 11, 1999 | Go to article overview

The Quest to Define Collegiate Desegregation: Black Colleges, Title VI Compliance and Post-Adams Litigation


Loomis, Frederick D., Black Issues in Higher Education


The Quest to Define Collegiate Desegregation: Black Colleges, Title VI Compliance and Post-Adams Litigation By M. Christopher Brown II Price: $49.95 Greenwood Publishing Group 192 pgs.

Overcoming more than a century of discrimination against African Americans in higher education involves questions of law and public policy. The legal issues focus on southern and border states that once operated systems of higher education segregated by race. Over the years, public policy debates have centered on the degree to which resources, missions, programs and enrollment patterns must change in order to achieve compliance with desegregation mandates. Despite seemingly endless litigation and countless statewide planning efforts, lawyers, educators and politicians have yet to answer the question of when a state has achieved a desegregated system of higher education.

In his book, The Quest to Define Collegiate Desegregation, M. Christopher Brown II, presents a comprehensive and systematic review of desegregation case law and makes a significant contribution toward advancing our understanding of the underlying forces at work on this issue. By focusing attention on the democratic ideals of access and equity, Brown's work illustrates the paradox of desegregation -- both the simplicity and the complexity of achieving the ideal of a unitary system of higher education.

The Quest Define College Desegregation uses a methodology of grounded theory and systematic interpretation of legal definitions of compliance. Brown's analysis of the relevant case law -- from Brown v. Board of Education to Adams v. Richardson, through U.S. v. Fordice -- demonstrates, with style and rigor, the "unfinished quest for compliance," correctly observing that "evolving legal standards only lead to more judicial efforts and/or limitations to specific compliance activities, rather than universally acceptable criteria."

In his review, Brown gives special attention to the role and value of Black colleges, the existence of which has confounded a definition of desegregation. Black colleges and universities constitute only 3 percent of the more than 3,800 institutions in the U.S., but enroll 16 percent of the Black students in higher education. For years, Black colleges have developed and fostered a learning community, with strong faculty-student interaction and an emphasis on the cultivation of history, culture and tradition.

Brown argues persuasively that definitions of desegregation must include an expanded role for historically Black colleges in the areas for research, graduate studies, and public service. In a unitary system, institutional missions and academic programming can be enriched through inter-institutional cooperation and collaboration. "Merger or closure of any institution, Black or White, should be an inevitable and unavoidable last resort."

Most importantly, in my view, Brown advocates that any desegregation plan, including goals to enhance Black colleges and universities, should be fully integrated into the state's master plan for higher education. Desegregation must not be seen as only a legal mandate, but rather promulgated as an important public policy goal.

The book notes that federal Title VI desegregation guidelines, issued in response to the Adams case, sought to enhance and assist Black colleges in becoming equal institutions in a unitary system of higher education. …

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