HBCU 'Equality' Lawsuit - Expert Testifies-Moving Beyond Just Being Black Schools

By Todd Beamon
Special to the AFRO

Maryland’s four Black colleges and universities will flourish once they have unique, high-demand programs that are not duplicated at the state’s traditionally White institutions, the last witness for the plaintiffs testified last week.

“These programs would create areas of expertise that would define these institutions beyond their racial history,” Walter R. Allen, a sociology professor at the University of California-Los Angeles, testified on Jan. 18, day nine of the trial before U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake in Baltimore.

The lack of such programs at Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore, Allen testified, “creates a situation where the academic missions being assigned to HBCUs leads them to be seen only as Black schools.”

Allen, who holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago, was the last witness called by the Coalition for Excellence in Maryland Higher Education Inc. in its lawsuit against the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC). The plaintiffs questioned 20 witnesses in presenting its case in the trial, which began Jan. 3 and is expected to last three more weeks.

Besides testifying on the effects of program duplication, Allen said that any effort to enhance Maryland’s HBCUs must include remedying the chronic underfunding of the institutions over a century.

“These funding practices were begun with the initiation of these schools,” Allen testified. “The underfunding of the HBCUs is a set of misguided laws – and they have left the HBCUs unable to compete in the marketplace.”

Allen also suggested several programs “niches” that would boost the academic stature of the institutions. He said he based the proposed programs on research of federal government data on future jobs possibilities and demographic data.

One such proposal for Morgan would be a “green-sustainability studies” program, entailing classes in environmental policies, natural resources, and city and regional planning. This curriculum would build on the university’s existing offerings in architecture and engineering.

For Eastern Shore or Bowie, Allen recommended a curriculum in computer sciences or information sciences – building on bachelor’s and master’s degree programs at the institutions. Both Coppin and Bowie would benefit from a program that encompassed public-urban health, community health and nursing administration, Allen testified.

Crucial to the success of these programs would also be judicial review of any proposals that would duplicate such efforts at TWIs, he testified.

“These remedies are practical and achievable – and they are within reach of the state,” Allen testified.

When Craig A. Thompson, of the Venable LLP law firm in Baltimore, challenged Allen under cross examination on whether Maryland’s HBCUs provided students with an inferior education compared with its TWIs...

“No,” Allen responded, with a qualifier that, given the challenges – in resources, financial aid, even remediation – faced by students at Black institutions, “These students are competitive with other students around the country. These kids are well educated. The shortfall is made up by the time they graduate.”

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