VIRGINIA GOV. Mills E. Godwin's caustic rejection last week of new federal guidelines for desegregating the state university system comes as no surprise. It's perfectly in keeping with the hard-boiled stance he's taken on the issue all along. Last summer when Mr. Godwin first refused to accept the guidelines drafted by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, he said their numerical goals and timetables would reduce education in Virginia to a "federal numbers game." In subsequent letters to HEW and during a press conference last week, Mr. Godwin, who leaves office Jan. 14, escalated the rhetoric: He will not "surrender" the administration of the state university system to HEW; he will not allow HEW to "sit in judgment on Virginia's good faith in carrying out a longstanding pledge of equal opportunity in higher education"; he will not agree to the "dismantling" of the state university system that the federal guildelines would bring about.
Mr. Godwin is wrong about the HEW guidelines, which also apply to the university systems of five other states. The HEW plan, drafted at the direction of a federal court, calls for a significant increase within five years of the black enrollment at predominantly black ones. It also calls for racial diversity among the faculty, administrators and governing boards of the state system. And it sets broad numerical "goals" that are to be reached by a certain date. But, as we have noted previously, HEW Secretary Joseph Califano promised to be flexible and consider extenuating circumstances if states fail to achieve a goal.
The guidelines are an attempt to get these states, whose university systems in the past were formally and officially segregated by race, to do away with vestiges of the old dual systems. Those vestiges clearly exist in Virginia, where, for example, two-thirds of the black students enrolled in the 14 state colleges attend the two institutions that are predominately black. Rather than impose a specific plan on the states, HEW left the details of the desegregation process to state officials. Federal officials aren't completely satisfied with the plans any of the states have submitted, but they say Virginia's plan is by far the worst. They consider the Virginia plan so deficient that they're asked the federal court to extend by 30 days the state's deadline for submitting a plan so that they will be able to discuss the issue with the incoming governor, John N. Dalton. We share their hope that governor-elect Dalton, who in the past has generally supported Mr. Godwin on this issue, will be more reasonable and responsible in office. It's time for Virginia (and the other states) to close the book on its dual system of higher education.