Choosing to desegregate

Our efforts in the Civil Rights Division have been to strive for a greater degree of sensitivity to the educational needs of particular communities that must respond to the constitutional and moral imperative of desegregation. At the elementary and secondary school levels, we advocate remedial plans emphasizing educational incentives and enhancements, such as magnet schools. There is mounting evidence that, with the right kind of incentives, careful planning and vigorous recruitment, parents and students in search of educational opportunities will make desegregative choices, and the system as a whole will steadily begin to improve.

Not surprisingly, employing a similar philosophy to desegregate institutions of higher learning has met with considerably less resistance, principally because forced busing is not a viable option at this level. As a result of litigation in the District of Columbia federal courts (Adams v. Bell), most state college or university systems charged with segregation and not yet under court order are involved with the Department of Education or the Department of Justice in active efforts to negotiate a meaningful settlement.

The discussions have for the most part been tedious and extended, but, more so with this administration than its predecessor, they have also been successful. The states of North Carolina, Louisiana, and most recently Virginia have entered into amicable settlements, and several other states are close to a final resolution of their higher education cases.

A principal reason for these positive results is this administration's attitude toward black colleges and universities in this country. As the President and vice-president have both made clear, these institutions have a proud heritage that must be preserved and strengthened. They form a vital part of our nation's resources and play a critical role in opening for many young Americans new vistas and windows of opportunity.

This is not to suggest that all black colleges are marked for survival, any more than are all white institutions of higher learning. But, unlike our predecessors, we believe the effort should be made to preserve and enhance predominantly black institutions, while promoting desegregation, rather than looking to merge them with white colleges or discontinue them altogether.

As with elementary and secondary education, at the centerpiece of our higher education desegregation program is the guiding hand of educational quality. An effective dismantling of dual systems of higher education depends upon eliminating all barriers which deny equal access to any public college or university in the state. That requires in many instances that certain institutions in the dual system receive enhanced educational offerings, not only to compensate for the lack of attention they had received in the past on account of their current or historic racial identifiability, but also to attract other-race enrollments to those institutions.

This invariably means a substantial financial commitment on the part of the state, a consequence that, more than anything else, has delayed settlement in many cases. But desegregation at the higher education level is no less a constitutional imperative than at the primary and secondary school levels. And the courts have made it abundantly clear that the cost of dismantling a dual system of education provides no basis for compromising the constitutional command to desegregate.

With respect to predominantly white institutions, we have employed a variety of techniques to increase other-race enrollments. Considerable emphasis has been placed on programs designed to inform students of available educational opportunities and to recruit other-race students. Developmental or remedial education programs have been utilized to reduce black attrition rates. Cooperative efforts between geographically proximate institutions have been required, including faculty and student exchanges and joint degree programs. These and other measures that we have adopted help to ensure equal access for all students, regardless of race, to a quality educational institution of their own choosing.

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