New Presidents Face Disappointing Ayers Settlement

Good luck to Carolyn Meyers and Christopher Brown. The seasoned Meyers and the scholarly Brown have been named by the College Board to head Jackson State University and Alcorn State University, respectively.

The black educators step into challenging jobs just as the Ayers Settlement ends its disappointing first phase. Ironically, their selection echoes a “vestige of segregation” the settlement sought to mitigate. As the settlement’s so-called “architect,” let me explain.

Following the last Ayers trial, the College Board, guided by a special master appointed by Judge Neal Biggers, moved methodically to eliminate remaining “vestiges of segregation,” the term the U.S. Supreme Court use to describe remnants of “de jure” segregation. Each move was aggressively contested by plaintiff lawyer Alvin Chambliss. And, virtually every decision made by the College Board became fodder for racial bickering.

Robert Khayat and Mack Portera, Ole Miss Chancellor and Mississippi State President, respectively, told Board members something had to be done to get past this.

Meanwhile, newly elected Governor Ronnie Musgrove beat the drum for settlement. Board legal counsel thought settlement imprudent, saying court monitored elimination of vestiges, while slow and contentious, would be sufficient and frugal.

The Board investigated options to expand its vestige elimination program into a quicker settlement. The focus was to find a solution that didn’t just throw money at the three historically black universities, but would help them become more diverse and competitive. You see, their historic market was shrinking. A growing majority of black students was choosing to attend historically white, now multi-racial, universities.

My contributions were to show how a phased, multi-year financing plan could be afforded to establish competitive programs and support them long enough to become self-sustaining, and how other funding should be tied to improved diversity through other race scholarships and endowments. When the Board negotiating team sat across from designated lead plaintiff Bennie Thompson, our significant negotiations revolved around programs and money, not the payment structure. We came to agreement, but it took four years to overcome Chambliss’s rump group challenge and gain court approval, a delay that undermined impetus for private endowment contributions.

The 17-year, $500 million settlement was front-loaded with money to establish new programs and give them six years to become self-sustaining, attract other race students, and add buildings. Second and third phases provide money for more programs.

During this the settlement’s sixth year, however, little progress has been made toward diversity. Few programs, apparently, are self-sustaining. Mitigation of race in College Board decisions has been limited. And, the practice of white presidents at “white universities” and black presidents at “black universities” shows us still rooted in yesterday.

Despite the clamor, funding is not the problem. Resistance to change is.

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