Ayers Case 32 Years Later

In 1975, Jake Ayers filed a lawsuit accusing Mississippi of inadequately funding black universities.

In 1992 the U.S. Supreme Court agreed, but the $503 million settlement remains tied up in appeals.

Nestled in the heart of the Delta, just ten years ago the future for Mississippi Valley State University was uncertain to say the least.

With the state's higher education budget strapped and the Ayers case at the forefront, there was serious discussion about closing "The Valley", as its known.

But now, not only is the school surviving but it's now thriving. Within the past six years MVSU has more than doubled its student enrollment from 2200 to 4200 students.

"We're the fastest growing institution in the state and have been for the past four to five years. There's no reason why Valley should not be here," said president Dr. Lester C. Newman. Six years ago, he was appointed the fifth president of Mississippi Valley.

Newman credits much of the growth to the university's efforts to implement more programs to attract non-traditional students, such as working parents. He said it's very important, especially for the Delta region.

"The Mississippi Delta is the poorest region in Mississippi and perhaps one of the poorest in the country. We believe the institution is the catalyst for economic change in this community," Newman said.

With an emphasis on reaching out to the community, the university is implementing programs to do just that. In fact, as of last fall, all incoming freshmen at Valley were required to do at least 60 hours of community service. This can be done anywhere, such as a Boys and Girls Club located on the campus, or even at one of the 3 towns that the university has now adopted.

Meanwhile, in continuing to reach out to the community, Newman said the university also doing that in terms of donations and it's working. Within the past five years he said donations to the university have increased by at least 400%. He said it will help with endowments that the university will receive once the Ayers settlement is finalized.

So far the university has received only a small portion of the $166 million plus that it's set to receive from the settlement. If all goes well,
Newman said the rest of the money will be available by late this fall and it will be used to further enhance academic programs, build single parent apartments on campus as well help to build low income apartments and develop a retail shopping center.

Although the Ayers settlement money will help, Dr. Newman said only adequate funding in the future will make the real difference.

"Higher education and the eight universities in Mississippi are economic engines. For every $1.00 invested, there is a $2.00 return. So, we're worth the cost," said Newman.

And now, Mississippi's long-running college desegregation case is once again headed to the nation's highest court.

Alvin Chambliss of Oxford, the lead attorney for private plaintiffs trying to opt out of a proposed settlement in the Jake Ayers case, said the appeal would be in the mail to the United States Supreme Court on Wednesday.

In his appeal, Chambliss argues that the $503 million settlement was reached under Fourteenth Amendment guidelines, but it should have been based on the Title Six criteria in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination based on sex, religion or race.