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The U.S. Supreme Court last week threw out a federal appeals court ruling in favor of Leonard Jeffries Jr., a professor at the City College of New York who was demoted after making a racially inflammatory speech.

The High Court on Nov. 14 ordered the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to re-examine its April 1994 ruling that college officials had violated Mr. Jeffries's free-speech rights.

Speaking at a 1991 black arts festival, Mr. Jeffries said negative portrayals of African-Americans in the media were the result of a conspiracy by Jews.

The board of the City University of New York later declined to retain Mr. Jeffries as chairman of City College's black-studies department. He sued, and a federal jury awarded him $400,000 in punitive damages.

The damage award was reduced by the trial judge and vacated altogether by the appeals court panel, which ordered a new trial on damages.

But the appeals court held that Mr. Jeffries was demoted based on speech about matters of public concern, which it said was constitutionally protected "no matter how vulgar or misguided."

College officials appealed to the Supreme Court in Harleston v. Jeffries (Case No. 94-112). The High Court last week ordered the appeals court to re-examine the case in light of a case decided by the Justices in May.

In Waters v. Churchill, a splintered Court ruled in favor of a public hospital that fired a nurse for speaking out about hospital procedures.

In a plurality opinion, Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said public employers have somewhat greater latitude to exert control over their employees' speech than they have to control the speech of the general public. (See Education Week, 06/08/94.)

Miss. Desegregation: The plaintiffs in a Mississippi desegregation case have asked the U.S. Education Department to cut off federal funding to the state's colleges and universities.

A lawyer for the plaintiffs argues in a 700-page complaint submitted to the department that the state discriminates on the basis of race in college admissions and financial aid.

The complaint also maintains that blacks have been excluded from the leadership of Mississippi's State Postsecondary Review Entity. A 1992 federal law required each state to establish a spre to monitor colleges.

State officials maintain that the questions raised in the complaint are the same issues pending before a U.S. District Court in Fordice v. Ayres, a longstanding desegregation case, and that the department should not act before the case is settled.

"This thing, it's unusual to say the least," said Lloyd Arnold, a special assistant attorney general in Mississippi.

Most recently, in 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed an earlier ruling in favor of the state and remanded the case back to the district court.

"We are currently evaluating this letter to determine if a civil-rights investigation is appropriate," said a spokesman for the U.S. Education Department's office for civil rights.

Vol. 14, Issue 12

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