Education Secretary Terrel Bell announced a settlement yesterday that heralds the end of a 10-year fight over segreation in North Carolina's state colleges.
The government's settlement with the university system's board of governors involves 11 largely white and five largely black colleges and was described by Bell in a telephone interview as having "great significance" for higher education.
Bell said he hopes to apply the solution used in this case -- which he called "incentives rather than coercion" -- to pending state-college desegregation cases in such states as Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The settlement came after the Department of Education softened the position of previous administrations by cutting out demands for strict quotas, and instead agreed to ask only that a flexible system of goals be reached. Bell said the new "goals are set with the clear understanding that failure to meet them is not automatically to be deemed failure to comply with the agreement."
Still to be heard from is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which started the action against the University of North Carolina with a suit filed in 1970. The Education Department is operating under a federal court order that requires it to give the NAACP Legal Defense Fund 72 hours' notice of any proposed settlement.
The NAACP has the right to ask the court to disallow the agreement on grounds that it doesn't meet the requirements of the law. A spokesman for the NAACP could not be reached for comment.
Bell said the most significant part of the settlement is that the 32 governors of the university agreed to establish 29 new "high-demand" programs at the five traditionally black colleges.
He said these new offerings would "attract a greater number of white students to the schools and retain a number of the brighter black students who might now go off to the flagship school." The new programs include bachelor's- and master's-level courses in engineering, accounting, music, education and other subjects.
The deal between the department and North Carolina also calls for raising black enrollment at white schools from the current 7.4 percent to 10.6 percent by the 1986-87 academic year, and increasing white enrollment at the black colleges from 11.2 percent to 15 percent.
The university "guarantees equitable financial support for traditionally black institutions . . . continuance of efforts for further integration of the faculty and staff, and . . . equity in approporiations for salaries" in white and black colleges, Bell said.
He said that the previous administration relied on "coercion" and "closing down programs at the white schools" to try to equalize the financial and racial imbalance. He said his approach was to ask the university to leave the traditionally white schools and programs intact, while putting more resources into the black colleges.
All the goals in the agreement need not be considered rigid rules because economic and demographic conditions may "cause changes which the state could not be expected to predict with exactitude," Bell said. "This flexibility on the goals will ensure that they are not interpreted as rigid quotas at some time in the future."
The agreement was hammered out in secret negotiations at the same time the government was taking the state to court in a suit that could have cost it $90 million in federal education aid. Bell credited Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) with helping get the talks started.
The dispute is the closest Washington has ever come to cutting off federal education aid to public colleges.
The government first asked North Carolina and other southern states in February, 1970, to submit plans to speed integration of their colleges, which were once segregated by law. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund sued the former Department of Health, Education and Welfare in October of that year to press for enforcement, and has won several court victories over the decade directing the government to obtain stronger integration plans.
Over the years, the university has maintained that the issue is not segregation so much as control over its own academic programs.
The Carter administration in its last days in office accused seven other southern states of having vestiges of segregation in their colleges, and Bell recently cited Ohio for alleged violations.
But he said the negotiations with North Carolina "put the rule of reason to a test and it worked. I am confident we will be able to point to other successes in the future."