The Department of Health, Education and Welfare's effort to force Virginia to fully desegregate its publicly supported colleges and universities is the story of confrontation over assimilation.
Politicians say the federal government is infringing on state's rights. Some say the federal government is asking the state to set quotas. Whites say they don't want to go to predominantly black colleges. Blacks say they don't want to go to predominantly white institutions. Some educators fear that black colleges will be eliminated.
"The feeling on a lot of campuses is we want things to stay the way they are," said Amy Jones, a white student at predominantly black Norfolk State College. However, she said, "I think there's going to have to be some sort of resolution."
For the past eight years, the Office of Civil Rights for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare has been trying to get Virginia to eliminate the vestiges of the state's former faculty governing boards of white institutions.
And for the past eight years, Virginia officials have fought back.Gov. John N. Dalton has until Friday to submit a plan to desegregate the state's 39 publicly supported colleges and universities or face a possible loss of as much as $75 million in federal funds.
HEW wants the state to increase the number of black high school graduates who go to college; increase the black enrollment at white institutions and the white enrollment at black institutions; increase the resources and programs for black institutions, give black colleges priority in the placement of new programs; and increase the number of blacks on the ulty governing boards of white institutions.
The federal agency wants Virginia to establish timetables for achieving these goals during the next five years.
Former Gov. Mills Godwin called the HEW goals "quotas" and refused to comply with them. He said that the state didn't operate a dual system of higher education and that any qualified student could go to any state college regardless of race.
Gov. Dalton has not commented on the matter since he took office on Jan. 14. However, statements during the gubernatorial campaign indicated that he intended to take much the same position as Godwin.
The college desegregation issue is one of the most difficult problems facing the new governor. Feelings run high against HEW in much of Virginia, where the state leaders adopted a policy of massive resistance to integration after the Supreme court ordered an end to segregation in 1954. Rural Prince Edward Coutny closed all its schools in 1959 rather than integrate them, and held out for five years before they were reopened. Scattered individual black students attended predominantly white colleges as early as 1951, but half of Virginia's black college students to this day attend predominantly black institutions.
Dalton is under strong pressure from hard-liners in Virginia not to "cave in" to HEW, and under equally strong pressure from moderates within his own party to compromise and resolve the eight-year-old dispute. In the meantime, black plaintiffs have gone to court to force HEW to press its demands on Virginia for a plan to desegregate the colleges.
At predominantly white Old Dominion University in Norfolk, student newspaper editor Gordon Borrell said "sentiment (on campus) against HEW is heavy. People are for affirmative action except when it starts to infringe on people's rights. It's your choice to make. HEW Can't tell people where they can go to school."
By contrast, Steven J. Rosenthal, an assistant sociology professor at Old Dominion University said he believes Virginia needs goals and timetbales if the state is serious about desegregation its colleges. "I personally support quotas. Quotas are a necessary means to secure compliance. I think the firmer the target is set the more likly it will be reached."
Rosenthan said, "I think Virginia has continued to maintain a segregated school system. Sure they have made some cosmetic changes. But, basically they have a separate, unequal system . . . Society is moving back ot segregation. (Virginia's efforts to fend off integration) may really prove to be a important turning point backward to this whole segregation move."
Some blacks fear that the HEW guidelines threaten the survival of black colleges.
"The possible eventual demise of black colleges as they have been historically defined and constituted is a real danger," said Jack W. Virginai conference of the NAACP.
Del. William P. Robinson (D-Norfolk), a political science professor at Norfolk State College, said "Black students have seen mdoels of inspiration in the black institutions. . . They see the possibility of their personal growth in an environment without hostility. Until the basic attitude about the badge of race is changed, you're going to have to have these models for blacks. Black colleges must survivie."
'We don't feel that the white universities in the state of Virginia at this time would be able to deliver the services to the students that black colleges historically have served," Gravely said.
For example, he said, "A lot of students may be deficient in one or two subjects. If I had gone to the University of Virginia (for undergraduate school), I probably woudl have punched out of school. I probably wouldn't have been admitted. But a black college (Fayettesville State University in North Carolina) took me. I had to take a first semester course in remedial English and a first semester course in remedial math. But over the four-year period something got hold of me, something helped me and something pushed me on and I wasn't given a one-way ticket and a bag of potato chips and a comic book and sent back home.
"I'm just saying I don't know whether or not the average white college in Virginia is ready for this," he continued. "Black colleges have always done it. THye ahd to do it because historically black students, prior to integration, came from inferior, second-rate high schools that lacked equipment and everything like that. The only thing that kept us going was the enthusiasm, knowledge and dedication of those teachers. And somewhere down the road we had to make it up. And usually we completed six years of education in four years" of college.
"What's going to happen to the student who has the potential but does not have the entrance-level ticket to get into college?" he asked.
Jean Fairfax of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said if remedial and compensatory help is needed, the state should provide such help in all institutions. "The burden for remedial education should not be lodged in one segment of post education . . . The existence of black colleges should not be predicated on the need for remedial education."
Fairfax said the fear that black colleges will be lost is not "well-founded." She said the HEW guidelines "protect" black institutions by requiring the state to provide more resources and programs for black colleges.
The HEW guidelines also have produced fears among some students that Old Dominion University and Norfolk State College will be merged. If such a merger took place, these students say the racial identity of both schools would be lost.
"There is an idea in everyone's mind that there's going to be a merger," said Borrell. "They (blacks at Norfolk State) are going to have to come here. We're going to have to go there."
"I shudder when I heard the rumors of merger," said Michael Pitchford, president of the Student Caucus at Old Dominion University. "There's a certain amount of tradition. They (blacks at Norfolk State College) want to preserve their institutions. We want to preserve ours."
College officials at both schools deny that such a merger is planned.
Virginia's quarrel with HEW over desegregation dates to 1969 when HEW notified 10 states that they had not fully desegregated their systems of higher education and thus were in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Each state was advised to file a statewide plan for college desegregation. These states - Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Maryland - failed to submit plans or submitted plans unacceptable to HEW.
In February 1973, blacks represented by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund brought suit against HEW to require the department to take enforcement action against the states.
In 74 HEW accepted desegregation plans from eight of the 10 states. Louisiana refused to submit a plan and the Department of Justice sued the state to force it do so. The plan submitted by Mississippi was found unacceptable by HEW and the Department of Justice also filed a lawsuit against it.
Last year, on April 1, the U.S. District Court in Washington ruled that the 1974 plans had failed to achieve significant progress toward desegregation of the colleges and universities and ordered HEW to develop speficif criteria to guide states in preparing revised plans. The order excluded Pennsylvania by agreement of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Maryland also was excluded from the order. The state submitted a college desegregation plan, which was rejected by HEW. The federal agency began an administrative hearing to cut off up to $65 million in federal funds and Maryland officials sued HEW to block the cut in federal aid. A lower court ruled in favor of the state and HEW has appealed the decision to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Four of the seven judges on the court panel indicated that they favored a speed-up college desegregation in the state. However, Judge J. Braxton Craven Jr., one fo the four-member majority, died last May, midway during the court deliberations. But the court issued a 4-to-3 decision in September, including Craven as part of the majority. Maryland officials asked the appeals court to reconsider its ruling. They argued that the court had no authority to include Craven's vote in its ruling even though he had approved some parts of the majority opinion before he died.
The six remaining states from which HEW is awaiting desegregation plans must submit them by Friday.
In Virginia, 36.9 per cent of black high school graduates attend state-supported colleges and universities as opposed to 53.9 percent of white Virginia high school graduates. Nearly 17 percent of the state's university students are black, and five percent attend what have been in the past the traditionally white four-year colleges or graduate schools.
Blacks make up 7.6 per cent of the faculty at the state's publicly-supported colleges and universities. Most of those black faculty members are at the two predominantly black institutions, Norfolk State College and Virginia State College in Petersburg.
In January, 1976, 184 persons sat on governing boards on the state supported colleges and universities. Twenty-two of them were black. Most of these served on the governing boards of the two predominantly black institutions.
Among the presidents of the states 23 community colleges, there is only one black. Blacks serve as presidents of Norfolk State College and Virginia State College.