A federal judge said yesterday that he would set new deadlines for desegregating public colleges and universities in Virginia and 11 other states.
District Judge John H. Pratt, who has presided over an extensive desegregation lawsuit for nearly 13 years, made the statement in response to complaints by civil rights lawyers at a hearing in Washington. Pratt did not say, however, whether he would choose deadlines as early as those sought by critics of the government.
"I think we're going to have some deadlines," the judge said. "Just what they'll be I don't know." He ordered federal officials to recommend within 10 days a series of deadlines for reviewing college-desegregation plans and starting enforcement proceedings that could lead to cutoffs of federal funds for states with inadequate plans.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which lodged the complaints, contends that the Department of Education has failed in its protracted attempts to negotiate agreements with the states on college desegregation. A court-supported threat of federal sanctions is needed to prod the states, the fund argues.
"We are gratified that there are going to be deadlines," Elliott C. Lichtman, a lawyer for the fund, said after yesterday's hearing. "There are no deadlines right now. Right now we are in limbo . . . the hand-wringing hasn't worked."
Federal officials contend that they can more readily persuade states to adopt college-desegregation measures without the deadlines proposed by their critics and without court intervention. "We do not need a court order to get us to carry out our responsibilities," said Richard Levie, a lawyer representing the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights.
Levie argued that deadlines proposed by civil rights attorneys would not allow sufficient time for negotiations with states and reviews by the federal agency's small civil rights staff.
Last month, the Education Department reached agreement with Virginia on a three-year college-desegregation plan, which was attacked by civil rights lawyers as illegal and regressive.