Gov. John N. Dalton yesterday revived hopes for a settlement of Virginia's college desegregation dispute by renewing negotiations with federal civil rights officials.
A meeting of more than an hour between Dalton and his two top legal and education advisers on one side and two officials of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) on the other appeared to represent a sharp turnaround in the state's approach.
Barely more than a month ago, former governor Mills E. Godwin said he would take HEW to court before he would yield to what he characterized as federal demands for "quotas" to increase black enrollments in predominantly white schools and white enrollments in predominantly black schools.
In a brief statement after yesterday's meeting, Dalton declined to talk about differences between HEW and the state over desegregation plans, but he said that "discussions will continue."
Even the fact that Dalton met with David S. Tatel, director of the HEW office of civil rights, marked a shift in the state's handling of the desegregation issue. Colleen O'Connor, information officer for the federal agency, said Tatel had tried to meet with Godwin last August but had been turned down on grounds that a conference was unnecessary.
Another indication of the changed Virginia approach wa s apparent in the absence from yesteday's meeting of Robert Mcllwaine, legal counselor to both Godwin and Dalton. McIlwaine and state Sen. Frederick T. Gray (D. Chesterfield) were Godwin's principal advisers on the desegregation case.
Both Gray and McILwaine, veterans of Virginia's losing battles to resist desegregation of the state's public schools in the 1950s, were seen leaving Dalton's office before the governor's meeting with the federal officials.
When Dalton sat down with Tatel and Burton Taylor, special assistant to NEW Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr., the only other Virginia officials present were Attorney General J. Marshall Coleman and Secretary of Education Wade Gilley.
Both Coleman and Gilley are among the moderate Republican officials close to Dalton who have been urging the governor to seek a settlement of the desegregation issue.
U. S. District Court Judge John H. Pratt in Washington has ordered HEW to submit acceptable desegregation plans for colleges in Virginia and five other SOuthern states by Friday or begin the long process of cutting off federal college aid to those states for noncomplienace with federal civil rights standards.
Although HEW has continued to seek agreement on acceptable plans in the other five states, Tatel wrote Godwin in December that Virginia's final revisions were unacceptable.
Dalton said after his meeting with Tatel that the state would make no new filing before Califano acts on the Pratt deadline later this week, making it certain that Virginia will be found in noncompliance. Both sides, however, treated this as a legal inevitability that would not affect negotiations. Tatel said HEW could not extend the deadline because it had been set by Pratt on the condition that no further extensions could be requested.
About 17 percent of Virginia's college students are black, compared to a black ration of 18.5 percent in the total population. However, two-thirds of the black students attend two predeominantly black colleges, Norfolk State in Norfolk and Virginia State in Petersburg. Of the 13 predominantly white four-year colleges, nine have black student ratios of 5 percent or less.
HEW has insisted on a state timetable for increasing black ratios at the predominantly white schools and white ratios at the predominantly black schools. Godwin rejected such goals as "quotas."