Proposed Merger Threat to Black Colleges in Mississippi

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Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour on Monday proposed combining the state's three public black colleges into one of the institutions, Jackson State University. While Barbour said that campuses would continue to exist at what are now Alcorn State University and Mississippi Valley State University, the proposal marks the most dramatic state challenge in recent years to the continuation of some public black colleges -- and the move comes in the state whose higher education system was the subject of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that governs college desegregation.

Governor Barbour also proposed a merger of the Mississippi University for Women (which is no longer just for women, its name notwithstanding) into Mississippi State University. While his plan stressed that the various merged institutions would survive in some form, he also said that this major reorganization should result in the elimination of many programs, which supporters of black colleges fear will come largely from their institutions. The governor's budget statement said that all of the state's public colleges would see "a rationalization of class offerings.... Every university would be expected to reduce costs by consolidating or eliminating programs not pulling their financial weight." (The plan in total would turn eight universities in the state system into five.)...

... Chambers noted that mergers of black educational institutions in the South have not historically gone well for black students and educators. "What happens to the faculty at black colleges" when programs are consolidated? he asked. And if the consolidations result in smaller branch campuses where Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley are now full institutions, "how do you ensure that the same number of minority students end up in college? Why aren't they asking questions about minority enrollments?"...

... Any merger of black colleges in Mississippi would have particular political significance because of United States v. Fordice, a 1992 Supreme Court decision that found Mississippi had failed to desegregate its higher education system. The decision specifically encouraged the state to consider mergers and to cut down on duplication of academic programs as a means of desegregating -- but the decision did not order mergers.

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