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franklin county times

Ayers: Crawford in major role

By By Steve Swogetinsky/The Meridian Star
May 9, 2001
A federal judge said Tuesday he will hear arguments Sept. 4 on the fairness of a proposed settlement in the Ayers case, a settlement in which a major role was played by the new president of the state College Board Bill Crawford of Meridian.
U.S. District Judge Neal B. Biggers Jr. expressed concerns about the settlement in which the College Board would agree to spend $503 million over 17 years to launch new degree programs, build new buildings and create a public endowment for the state's three predominately black universities: Jackson State University, Alcorn State University and Mississippi Valley State University.
Biggers noted in his order the settlement simply switches one ordered plan with another. He said the proposed settlement would cost the state more than would a court-ordered plan.
And, he questioned the goals of a "triggering device," in the settlement's endowment proposal as a means of attempting to attract more non-black students to the predominately black universities.
Still, the judge ruled that the test for whether there should be a fairness hearing has been met, and thus he set the hearing.
The Ayers Case over desegregation of Mississippi's institutions of higher learning has been in litigation for a quarter of a century. The case was dismissed in U.S. District Court following a trial in 1987, a decision affirmed by a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but reversed in 1992 by the U.S. Supreme Court.
A second lengthy trial in 1994 resulted in a decision for the plaintiffs and settlement attempts have been on-going since.
Not a meeting has gone by since Crawford was named to the College Board in 1992 that something hasn't been discussed or done on the Ayers Case.
As he officially began his term as president of the college board Tuesday, that trend continued.
Attorney General Mike Moore, in Meridian Tuesday for a speaking engagement, praised Crawford for his role in putting the settlement together.
Crawford said the state could not afford a large lump settlement. For that reason, the offer was spread out over the time, but gave the plaintiffs much of what they sought.
After the hearing, the judge can: 1) reject the settlement; 2) accept the settlement; or, 3) reject the settlement with suggestions that could lead to an acceptance.
Crawford was the board's main liaison with legislative leaders during sensitive negotiations over what conditions and how much money could be offered to settle the case. He took the information and put together the financial plan that is a key element of the proposed settlement.
State residents can also file comments on the proposed settlement. Written comments will be accepted until July 25 and should be addressed to Clerk of the Court; U.S. District Court of the Northern District; U.S. Courthouse; 911 Jackson Avenue, Oxford, MS, 38655.
Steve Swogetinsky is regional editor of The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3217, or e-mail him at sswogetinsky@themeridianstar.com.

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