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As a finance major at Jackson State University, Gregory Riley is trained to follow the money. So when he looks at Mississippi’s universities, he suspects someone’s being cheated. He thinks it’s him. Take his best friend, who’s also a finance major but at the University of Mississippi. Riley said his friend’s school has more programs and equipment than Jackson State. “It’s so hard going to a historically black institution,” said Riley, 21. “No matter how hard you try, you feel like your degree will never be as prominent or have as much prestige.” Riley hopes a $500 million agreement to end the state’s 26-year college desegregation case can change that. “This document represents the best effort for resolving the desegregation of higher education in Mississippi,” said U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a plaintiff in the case who signed the proposed settlement Monday. A federal judge must still approve the deal, which could take months. The case began with a challenge in 1975 by the late Jake Ayers, the father of a black college student who claimed the state was neglecting historically black schools. In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed. The proposed settlement calls for $246 million spent over 17 years on academic programs at the state’s three historically black universities — Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State. Another $75 million would go to capital improvement projects, $70 million to public endowments and up to $35 million in private endowments. Other programs, including summer classes for struggling students, will receive the balance. “This is a commitment to the future of historically black institutions as well as all institutions of higher learning in this state,” state Rep. George Flaggs said. But some of the details of the settlement received criticism, particularly a requirement that the universities reach at least 10 percent non-black enrollment for three consecutive years before they can fully control the endowments. “I’m happy that it’s close to a settlement, but I’d like for the settlement to be fair,” said Tredrick A. Johnson of Cleveland, a Mississippi Valley State senior. “The case was originally filed because blacks were being discriminated against,” Johnson said. “So in light of that, how do you say, ‘Yes, we discriminated against you and now we want to make it right but only if you allow our students to come in?’ “ Members of the Mississippi Coalition of Black Higher Education, which includes faculty senators at the three historically black universities, have said they’re willing to go to court to challenge the proposed settlement. “The powers that be are using every underhanded technique that they can to hold onto the power and not change but give you the implication that they are changing,” said Ineva May-Pittman, a member. “African-Americans are being sold out for a mess of porridge.” Thompson said no group is getting everything it wanted in the proposed settlement. “This is a floor for the black colleges, not a ceiling,” Thompson said. U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr. is expected to review the deal to ensure it meets his guidelines. Even if signed by Biggers, the settlement would be subject to challenge. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove pushed for a settlement and negotiations had been ongoing since June. Ayers’ widow, Lillie Ayers, would not comment on the deal until she learned more about it. One university administrator, Roy C. Hudson, vice president for university relations at Mississippi Valley State, said he looks at the proposed settlement with “positive anticipation.” Hudson said he had learned to always approach the case with a bit of caution. “Litigation of a public nature dealing with such major public policy issues is never a sure thing,” he said. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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