The Unfulfilled Promise of the Ayers Ruling

In 1975 Jake Ayers, the father of a black student, filed a lawsuit against the state system of higher education in Mississippi. He claimed that the system’s three historically black universities were not adequately funded compared to the state’s predominantly white universities. The case was litigated for nearly 30 years until the parties agreed upon a settlement in 2002.

Under the agreement in the Ayers case, the state agreed to provide $246 million to the state’s three historically black colleges and universities for the improvement of academic programs. Another $75 million was allocated for facility improvements at the three universities. To date, about $61 million has been spent on 12 building projects.

The settlement funds for academic purposes have produced about 30 new programs at the state’s three historically black universities. But the payments, which are $20 million this year, are scheduled to be reduced to $13.4 million in July 2012. The payments will then be slowly phased out over the next several years. Thus, the historically black universities are likely to face budget shortfalls as the state funds are reduced while they have to continue to support the new academic programs that were created with the Ayers settlement funds.

The state also established an endowment fund for the historically black universities. But the universities would not be eligible to access the funds until 10 percent or more of their student bodies were nonblack for three consecutive years. But only one of the three historically black schools has met the requirement for attracting nonblack enrollments of 10 percent or more. Alcorn State University, through extensive recruitment of foreign students, was able to achieve the enrollment threshold.

Most troubling is the fact that the state was supposed to oversee $35 million in fundraising for private contributions to the endowment for the three schools. But almost nothing has been done to build the private endowment. The fund has a balance of only $1 million.