In one of several important desegregation lawsuits in higher education, a federal judge ruled yesterday that Alabama and its state universities must change financing and admission policies and hire more black faculty members and administrators.
The district judge, Harold Murphy of Rome, Ga., ruled that vestiges of racial discrimination remained in Alabama's higher education system. He ordered Alabama and its universities to devise plans to remedy those problems, and said he would retain jurisdiction over the case for the next 10 years to insure that the ruling was carried out.
Judge Murphy's decision could become moot, however, because the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a similar case in Mississippi, the first time the court will address the question of desegregation in higher education.
The Supreme Court's ruling is likely to affect not only Alabama, but also Louisiana and several other states in the South that are wrestling with the legacy of a dual higher education system, one black and one white. Historically, black colleges have received far less money than white ones.
The lawsuits raise complex issues about how far states should go to end the remnants of official segregation and the fate of historically black institutions, which some blacks now argue should be allowed to stay predominantly black but be given the same financing as historically white colleges.
In the Alabama case, which began in 1981, Judge Murphy found that the two historically black institutions, Alabama State University at Montgomery and Alabama A&M University at Huntsville, had been shortchanged by about $10 million each for buildings and equipment. He told the state to submit a plan to remedy those deficiencies.
Judge Murphy told Auburn University, which remains predominantly white, to change admission policies that he said appeared to discriminate against blacks. But he also told Alabama State University, which is largely black, to draw up a plan to recruit more white students.
He ordered several universities to come up with plans to increase the number of black faculty members and administrators. In addition, he demanded an end to the duplication of programs at some black and white universities.
Judge Murphy said he expected progress to be made on these changes within three years, although his law clerk, Carlos Gonzalez, said the judge had imposed no quotas or specific hiring obligations.
Lawyers for defendants in the case said they had not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling, which came after a six-month trial and years of legal maneuvering.
Joe Whatley, the lawyer who represents Alabama A&M University, one of the black universities, said: "The judge didn't go as far as we had hoped, but he very definitely is requiring the state to improve these institutions. What we got here is recognition that there continue to be vestiges of discrimination and segregation. The state was never willing to come forward and provide the kind of relief that is now ordered by Judge Murphy."
Although the decision appears sweeping, several lawyers for the defendants appeared to minimize its impact yesterday.
"The things the court wants us to do are in general the things we've been wanting to do," said Rob Hunter, the lawyer for several of the state defendants, including Gov. Guy Hunt and the Alabama Commission on Higher Education.
Mr. Hunter said the Alabama Commission on Higher Education had unsuccessfully asked the state legislature for even more money for the two historically black colleges than Judge Murphy estimated that the colleges needed.