Money for Ayers private endowment lacking

Published 12:33 am Wednesday, November 26, 2008

University leaders say a private endowment in the settlement of Mississippi’s long-running college desegregation case has been severely underfunded.

The endowment was supposed to net $35 million for Alcorn State, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State universities. However, so far, only $1 million has been raised since a federal judge approved the settlement in 2002.

The settlement, stemming from a 1975 lawsuit filed by the late Jake Ayers Sr., created funding to add programs at the three universities.

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The private endowment and a $70 million public endowment, funded through the state Legislature, are part of the $503 million settlement.

Payments from the public side of the settlement are set to decrease by a third next year.

“The theory was that the private endowment would balance it,” said Jackson State University President Ronald Mason said.

According to the settlement, the College Board should raise the $35 million for the private endowment, but no one has come up with a fundraising plan.

During the settlement proceedings, presidents from the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State and University of Southern Mississippi promised to help raise money.

Ole Miss Chancellor Robert Khayat has been the only president to assist, helping secure a $1 million grant through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in November 2002.

Mason said there is no incentive for those schools to help since they won’t get any of the money.

“It’s difficult for a president to raise money for another school,” he said.

If the historically black colleges raise money for Ayers, they’ll get only a percentage, as opposed to getting every penny if the money went toward their own individual endowments.

Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State get 28.3 percent each, while Jackson State gets 43.4 percent.

The College Board’s Ayers Endowment Trust Management Committee this past week discussed the private endowment’s shortfall, but no action was taken.

“There will definitely be follow-up discussion on the issue,” College Board spokeswoman Annie Mitchell said.

“I think that it’s not a priority because it’s a difficult task to accomplish,” Mason said. “We may have to get in a more emergency-type situation before it becomes a priority.”

Even if the money is raised, two of the three schools have not met requirements to gain control of their portions of the endowment.

The schools must maintain a non-black enrollment of more than 10 percent for three years. Alcorn State remains the only university to meet that benchmark, though non-black enrollment dipped to 9.6 percent during the 2007 school year.

Jackson State’s reached 7.75 percent last year, and Valley’s was 5.8 percent.

Former Valley interim president Roy Hudson said his school struggles because it mostly serves students from the predominantly black Mississippi Delta region.

“I hate to say ’never,”’ he said. “But when you look at our local potential … there’s just not much (diversity) there.”