Maryland still operates a segregated higher education system – and those students attending the state’s four historically Black colleges and universities are not receiving as qualitative an education as if they were at Maryland’s traditionally White institutions, an expert witness testified Tuesday.
“The dual education systems remain,” testified Clifton F. Conrad, a professor at the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. He testified for the Coalition for Excellence in Maryland Higher Education Inc. in its lawsuit against the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
Tuesday marked the fifth day of testimony in the trial, which began Jan. 3 and is expected to last six weeks.
“There continues to be substantial differences – severe differences – in terms of the numbers of programs and the quality of programs,” Conrad testified before U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake in Baltimore. “Those students who enter Maryland’s historically Black institutions – whether Black, White, or of other races – do not have an equal educational opportunity as those students who attend the state’s traditionally White institutions.”
In its lawsuit, the coalition contends that the state of Maryland through MHEC has maintained a system of “de jure segregation” – racial segregation imposed by law – in violation of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court and of Title VI of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The legal action, filed in 2006, seeks an estimated $2.1 billion to make Maryland’s four historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) – Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore – “comparable and competitive” to such traditionally White institutions (TWIs) as the University of Maryland- College Park, University of Maryland-Baltimore County, Salisbury University and Towson University.
MHEC, established in 1988 to oversee Maryland’s higher education system, is the leading state entity in the case. Maryland has admitted to operating a de jure segregation system, but contends that it ended with the 1954 Brown decision – and that no such policies or practices exist today.
The state also contends that Maryland’s colleges and universities are open to students of all races. In 2009, 59 percent of Black students within Maryland’s public university system attended White institutions, Maryland officials contend.
The coalition in the lawsuit asserts that Maryland has failed to eliminate its vestiges of segregation in funding for operations and program duplication. It also alleges that, even as Maryland negotiated with the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education to dismantle its segregated system, MHEC and other state education officials instituted policies and programs that further separated its Black and White schools.
Conrad, who holds a doctorate in higher education from the University of Michigan, was retained by the coalition to study program duplication and institutional mission within Maryland’s higher education system. He has served as a consultant to the Office for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education in higher education desegregation cases in Maryland, Virginia, Texas and Oklahoma.
He also has served as a consultant to MHEC.
In addition, Conrad testified as an expert witness before the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1992 U.S. v. Fordice case, in which the justices ruled that Mississippi operated a segregated higher education system.
In his testimony Tuesday, via a PowerPoint presentation, Conrad discussed the results of his research and provided an overview of de jure segregation in Maryland.
Among Conrad’s major findings:
De jure segregation exists in Maryland to this day – and it can be traced to past policies and practices.
From 2001 to 2009, Maryland did not take sufficient action to remove the policies and practices of de jure segregation from its higher education system.
The dual system of higher education continues in Maryland. The HBCUs continue to have few unique, high-demand programs that are not unnecessarily duplicated at the White institutions.
Inequality remains between Maryland’s White institutions and its HBCUs – in terms of number of programs and quality of programs.
In tracing Maryland’s de jure segregation history, Conrad cited a number of state reports – some dating as far back as 1937 – that detailed how HBCUs received less state support than TWIs.
In the 1937 report, for instance, Conrad highlighted: “The contrast between the amounts of money received by the two racial groups would show … an enormous differential in favor of the White race.”
A 1950 study concluded, “The continuous uphill struggle on the part of the Negro colleges to secure facilities on par with White institutions is a factor which cannot be overlooked … .”
And, even as late as 2005, a report from then-State Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. cited by Conrad said: “There is no doubt that Maryland operated de jure segregated public higher education programs before 1969” – the year the federal government found the state in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – “and that some policies, such a program duplication at geographically proximate schools, are traceable to that era.”
Much of Conrad’s testimony focused on program duplication. He testified that his analysis found that, on a statewide basis, 60 percent of the programs at HBCUs were being duplicated at TWIs in 2010, compared with only 18 percent of those in the opposite way.
“There is an absence of program uniqueness at the Black institutions that distinguishes them from the TWIs,” Conrad testified under questioning by Savaria B. Harris, an associate at the Kirkland & Ellis LLP law firm in Washington, which is representing the coalition. “They just don’t have an identity.”
“The TWIs have a program uniqueness,” Conrad continued. “No wonder they have been desegregated. There are unique, high-demand programs that will attract all students, regardless of race.”
‘There is nothing that distinguishes these Black institutions, programmatically,” he said.
This deficit of unique, high-demand programs have especially affected White student enrollment at HBCUs over the years, Conrad testified.
For instance, in 1991, Bowie State had 585 White undergraduate students out of a total of 2,965 undergraduates at the university, according to a chart provided by Conrad and based on state enrollment data. By 2008, its White student enrollment had fallen to 135, out of a total body of 4,340. At Coppin, the 1991 figure was 107, out of a total of 2,532; by 2008, it had dropped to 27, out of a total of 3,291.
As for Morgan, it had 96 White undergraduates in 1991, out of a total undergraduate body of 4,542. By 2008, it had declined to 100 versus a total population of 6,114. And, at Eastern Shore, the White student body numbered 462 in 1991, out of a total of 2,217; by 2008, the White student figure had fallen to 354, out of a total of 3,815 undergraduates.
Overall, Maryland’s four HBCUs had a White undergraduate enrollment of 1,143 in 1991. That was 9.3 percent of a total undergrad population of 12,256. By 2008, the White student enrollment had dropped to a total of 589 undergraduates – but that numbered 3.3 percent of a total undergraduate enrollment that had risen to 17,560 at the Black schools.
Even though the total number of undergraduate students, primarily African Americans, rose at the HBCUs over the period, the numbers of White students dropped precipitously, Conrad found.
“A major factor that attracts White students to HBCUs is programs,” Conrad testified. “Programs, programs, programs. Unique programs.”
Poor program quality also affects institutional mission, Conrad testified.
“Missions matter,” he said. “It is very simple.”
His research found that while Maryland’s HBCUs have “dual missions” that include serving students who are underprepared for college and who generally come from lower-income backgrounds, “they don’t have the unique and distinct missions of TWIs,” he said.
“You want to have expansive missions,” Conrad continued. These encompass doctoral research and development. “If you have a more expansive mission, this unique mission, you will be able to attract world-class faculty, you will be able to attract grants and research funding.
“You’ll be able to get donations,” he said. “People want to give to an institution that’s thriving. College Park and UMBC are able to get that kind of funding.”
In his cross examination, Craig A. Thompson, a partner with the Venable LLP law firm in Baltimore, challenged many of Conrad’s research methods and findings. For instance, he queried Conrad on – in assessing program duplication – whether he considered if programs were of “sound educational judgment,” an evaluation basis allowed by MHEC. Conrad testified that he had not.
Thompson also asked Conrad to define the missions of Bowie State and Morgan – the researcher was able to do so generally – and questioned whether UMBC was a school from the de jure era.
“That’s really a legal question,” Conrad replied. “I would think that, since it came into existence in 1966, it came in during the de jure era.”
In addition, Thompson asked Conrad to define several terms used in his research – he defined the distance of “geographically proximate” as 37 miles – and questioned whether Conrad had assessed if students of other races had attended HBCUs.
Conrad said most of his work had focused on why White students attended HBCUs.
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