HBCU 'Equality' Lawsuit—Partnership Agreement Evidence of Final Compliance—or Not

By Todd Beamon
Special to the AFRO

In 2006, Maryland sought confirmation as to its final compliance with the Partnership Agreement it had entered into with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in 2000 to dismantle Maryland’s segregated higher education system.

The Partnership Agreement was the result of a compliance review by OCR and protracted negotiations between the State of Maryland and OCR.

“I didn’t agree with the totality of the report,” stated Anne O. Emery, a former commissioner who voted against the report, in her testimony on Jan. 12, day six of the trial on a lawsuit brought by the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education Inc.

Maryland Secretary of Education Calvin W. Burnett and MHEC chairman Kevin M. O’Keefe signed the 2006 report.

The Partnership Agreement committed Maryland to nine specific actions, including “enhancing” the state’s HBCUs to the point of being “comparable and competitive with” the TWIs “in all facets of their operations and programs.” This included “enhancing the uniqueness and mix of quality academic programs that are not unnecessarily duplicated at proximate TWIs.”

In addition to being a MHEC commissioner, Emery also was on a panel, called Committee I, that was created to reviewed a draft of the 2006 report document that was to be sent to OCR. Committee I met four times – and Emery testified that she attended all the sessions. Committee I was charged with addressing compliance with the first eight commitments of the Partnership Agreement. A second group, known as Committee II, dealt with compliance with the last commitment.

Over concerns about data presentation, Committee I did not approve the draft of the report, even though a final version had been sent to the full MHEC board for approval, Emery testified.

“Committee I had not agreed,” Emery testified, reflecting on her vote as MHEC commissioner. “They had not voted – so I couldn’t agree to a report that was not agreed upon. It did not appear to reflect the position of the citizens of Maryland.”

She added, under questioning by Alexandra S. Peurach, an associate with the Kirkland & Ellis LLP law firm in Washington, “The Secretary [Burnett] said he felt the commitments had been met, so my opinion didn’t count.”

Disregarding Emery’s objection, the MHEC board approved the final version of the report on a 9-to-1 vote, sending it to OCR, she said.

Emery’s testimony echoed that of another Committee I member, Dr. Maurice Taylor, Morgan State’s vice president of university operations. He testified to his opposition to the proposed Burnett-O’Keefe document on days five and six of the trial.

“It was a question of whether the data spoke to the issues that they were supposed to,” Taylor said under cross examination by Kenneth L. Thompson of the Venable LLP law firm in Baltimore. “In my opinion, it did not.”

Taylor testified as to how the proposed report consisted primarily of columnized statistical data that provided little explanation of how Maryland had complied with the Partnership Agreement. He cited, for instance, the information provided on Commitment No. 8 -- “avoiding unnecessary program duplication and expansion of mission and program uniqueness and institutional identity at the HBCUs.”

“It was simply a list of numbers of courses approved for [HBCUs] and of new courses approved for TWIs,” Taylor testified. As such, he opposed the proposed document because “the data was so convoluted that it was hard to say whether you agreed or disagreed with it.”

In spite of the apparent incomplete procedures, the report of Committee I was nevertheless sent in support of Maryland’s request that OCR confirm the state’s final compliance with the objectives of the 2000 Partnership Agreement. To date the only apparent response received from OCR has been a statement that:

“The compliance review was resolved on Dec. 6, 2000, with an agreement between OCR and the state of Maryland,” the statement continued. “OCR continues to monitor the implementation of that agreement.”

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