Ayers settlement funding ending, case issues continue

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During its April meeting, the State Institutions of Higher Learning staff distributed to the board, and subsequently to the public, a budgetary report which showed that the Ayers allocations – $1.45 million each to Alcorn State University (ASU) and Mississippi Valley State University (MVSU) and $3.8 million to Jackson State University (JSU) – end this fiscal year.  The Ayers case had originally been filed in January 1975, alleging that the historically Black institutions of higher learning had been and continued to be discriminated against in terms of funding, among other things.  Then, for more than 30 years, the case wound its way through the courts before being settled with relatively small monetary allocations being awarded to those universities.

Despite the allocations ending, however, many issues that underlie the case are perpetual.  

(1) This Spring, the board authorized a study regarding the building of a football stadium for JSU.  This is an issue raised by the plaintiffs in the original filing of the case.  Their position was that since JSU did not have a stadium of its own and that Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium was located in Jackson, as was JSU, ownership of the stadium should be transferred to JSU.  Then, in a somewhat deceptive move, the board, in the settlement agreement, declared that the stadium would be known as the home of the Jackson State University Tigers.  To now pressure JSU to move out of the stadium is an apparent reneging on sentiment, if not the substance of the settlement.     

(2) Only $1 million of the $35 million private endowment money for the three universities, written into the settlement, was ever raised.  Meanwhile, the Black universities are miles behind the big three predominantly white universities in endowment money and nothing is ever mentioned in board meetings about the other $34 million in private endowments.

(3) Rather than being granted authority to offer more attractive programs, since the settlement MVSU, JSU, and ASU have lost programs.  One exception has been the fact that Alcorn did grant its first doctoral degree this May. A more typical case is the one wherein Mississippi Valley had to surrender its recorded music program, which was quickly picked-up by Delta State, making the creation of the Grammy Museum in Cleveland more likely to be established.  

(4) In the Ayers case, the plaintiffs had sought to have the state agricultural programs more evenly divided between Mississippi State University and Alcorn State University.  As of this writing, however, more than 90% of the agricultural programs and the money to run them are in the hands of Mississippi State.  

(5) Since the departure of President Carolyn Meyers, JSU has had its traditional budget allocations reduced, supposedly to re-pay the deficit that occurred under her administration. The faculty, staff, and students, however, should not be punished for the deficit since they had no way of knowing about or preventing such spending.  The board and its staff had the duty to provide the oversight which would have curtailed it.  Since they did not, the burden should be borne by the system, not JSU personnel.  It is the kind of situation that would not be attempted nor tolerated at Ole Miss, Mississippi State, or Southern Miss.  In that same vein, JSU was pressured to roll-back its presence in Madison County and to re-locate its alumni affairs operation to Lynch and Dalton streets rather than Capitol Street. 

(6) Although the plaintiffs were seeking more of a voice at the board-level, there are to this day only two Black members on the board, one of whom is a Tougaloo alumnus and the other a JSU alumnus.  This Ayers’ issue continues to draw protests because, like the presidential selections, seldom are the preferences of ASU, JSU, and MVSU respected.

Aside from these directly-related Ayers issues, Black students, who were considered as plaintiffs, are being priced out of the system by rising tuition and fees. There is less and less money available for them and their families.  Under this dual attack, they are often faced with choosing to go the community college / trade school route or foregoing college all together.

Similarly, although it was listed as an issue in the original Ayers’ filings, literally nothing has been done to bring about salary equalization for faculty and staff across the system. Faculty and staff at the predominantly Black universities continue to lag far behind.

All of these are critical issues that will not go away.  Because they represent what is fair and just but have not been addressed, they need to be resolved fairly and justly.  Otherwise, at some point, this generation of citizens and lawyers may be back in court and/or back in the streets demanding justice.

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Ayers settlement funding ending, case issues continue

By Dr. Ivory Phillips
January 24, 2022