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Settling Ayers

MBJ Editorial

At long, long, long last, an end to the Ayers lawsuit is in sight.

Last week one of the lead plaintiffs in the case, Congressman Bennie Thompson, said that he agreed to the $500-million settlement the State of Mississippi has offered to end the lawsuit, which has been winding its way through the courts since the 1970s. Thompson, a Democrat from Bolton who represents the Second District in the U.S. House of Representatives, added that the deal isn’t ideal — but will do.

And we hope it does.

Mississippi today is a far different — and better — place than when the case was set in motion by Jake Ayers Sr. in 1975. The state also faces more serious higher education issues than Ayers involves. While the original lawsuit was filed to address race-based funding inequities at the historically-black universities, inadequate funding — period — is an issue that grips all of our universities, community colleges and state government, in general.

And in considering how Mississippi pays for it’s four-year schools, one important question that continues to be ignored is this one: Why do we need eight, taxpayer-supported four-year universities that have never been and never will be adequately funded?

From a business perspective, wouldn’t it be better to streamline how we deliver a college education in Mississippi — eliminating program duplications and clearly defining missions?

We won’t hold our breath on that one, but closing and consolidating schools is a viable option that does make sense — once you consider it without the emotional outpouring of alumni and the squeal of self-preservation from faculty and administrators.

The time has come, indeed, for an end to the Ayers lawsuit. We need to focus on more pressing issues that challenge our schools, economy, communities, businesses and industries.

We hope that with this settlement, the Ayers lawsuit becomes a mere memory from a Mississippi that hasn’t existed for a very long time.

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