updated 1/28/2004 2:00:41 PM ET 2004-01-28T19:00:41

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a $503 million settlement in a desegregation case stemming from a lawsuit that accused Mississippi of neglecting its historically black universities for decades.

Opponents of the settlement had argued the money was inadequate to upgrade programs at the schools, and they opposed stiffer admission requirements and a condition that 10 percent of the schools’ enrollment be non-black.

The three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans said a federal district court did not abuse its discretion in approving the agreement covering Jackson State, Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State universities.

“The settlement is educationally sound, and the results will be carefully monitored for compliance and accountability,” said Mississippi Commissioner of Higher Education David Potter.

Alvin Chambliss Jr., an attorney for opposing plaintiffs, who included alumni and faculty of the schools, said the settlement does not provide enough money for the establishment of professional programs, without which black colleges will die, he said.

“Those who feel that black colleges have outserved their usefulness, this is an endorsement,” Chambliss said.

He said the matter might be appealed to the Supreme Court.

The federal panel wrote that the settlement contained “generous” funding for academic programs and that settling the case now would avoid potentially protracted and costly litigation.

Further, “the 10 percent threshold will provide historically black universities with a legitimate incentive to recruit and to attract other-race students,” the panel wrote.

Armand Derfner, an attorney representing other class-action plaintiffs who supported the settlement of the 29-year-old case, said: “We agree that the settlement is not all it could be, but it’s a floor from which we hope we can make further progress.”

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