Morgan State University has been unable to fully execute its mission because of poor financial support from the state of Maryland, its retired president has testified.
“We have never had the resources to carry out our full mission,” testified Earl S. Richardson, who served as Morgan’s president for 26 years before retiring last year. “You had an institution with enormous potential …, yet you did not have the resources to fulfill that mission.”
Richardson was among several witnesses called on Jan. 12, day seven of the trial in a lawsuit brought by the Coalition for Excellence in Maryland Higher Education Inc. against the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC). The case is being heard by U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake in Baltimore. The trial began Jan. 3 and is expected to last six weeks.
More broadly, Richardson added: “There’s no question: There’s a great disparity in the amount of investments made by the state between the historically Black colleges and universities and the traditionally White institutions.”
He also described the difference in financial resources provided by the state to HBCUs versus TWIs as “woefully lacking.”
Besides Morgan, the other HBCUs in the case are Bowie State University, Coppin State University and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore. The legal action, filed in 2006, seeks an estimated $2.1 billion to make the HBCUs “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.
A UMES graduate, Richardson has served during the Clinton Administration as chairman of the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. President Jimmy Carter first named him to that panel, which seeks ways to enhance the nation’s HBCUs.
In Maryland, prior to becoming Morgan’s president, he worked as executive assistant to the chancellor of the University System of Maryland and as assistant to the USM president. Richardson holds a master’s and doctoral degrees in educational administration from the University of Pennsylvania.
Under meticulous questioning by Henry A. Thompson II of the Kirkland & Ellis LLP law firm in Washington, which is representing the coalition, Richardson testified on a broad range of issues he faced –and his dealings with MHEC – during his tenure. His testimony primarily focused on program duplication and how several programs approved by the state agency affected Morgan.
Central to his testimony was MHEC’s 2005 approval of a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) Program at Towson and the University of Baltimore (UB). The joint program replicated similar ones at Morgan and Bowie State University. Morgan’s program began in 1969, while UB established its program in 1972 when it was a private institution.
Maryland Secretary of Higher Education Calvin W. Burnett, citing unnecessary program duplication of the Morgan and Bowie programs, initially rejected the Towson-UB proposal in 2004. But shortly thereafter, he reversed himself, approving the plan – and MHEC followed suit in 2005.
Negotiations among the schools failed – “Towson wanted degree authority to award the MBA,” Richardson testified – and the joint program began in 2006.
“The impact was almost immediate,” Richardson testified. “The enrollment plateaued immediately and then took a nose dive shortly thereafter.”
“The greatest impact, percentage-wise, was in White students,” he continued. At one point before the Towson-UB program was approved, Morgan had as many as 50 White students in its MBA program. “We went … down to about six students. And now, I believe it's one or two – if that.”
Other unnecessarily duplicative programs approved for TWIs by MHEC that negatively affected Morgan, Richardson testified, included a 1996 computer engineering program for UMBC that duplicated a similar specialty under Morgan’s electrical engineering program; a master’s and doctoral programs in computer engineering, also approved for UMBC; and a community college administration program at the University of Maryland-University College that was approved for online instruction only – and only to residents outside Maryland.
“That does not seem reasonable to me,” Richardson testified of the UMUC program. “That’s a program that taxpayers underwrite – and to say they cannot take a program that they have approved, it’s reprehensible.”
In other Jan. 12 testimony, Anthony W. Robinson, a Morgan graduate who is president of the Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc. in Washington, testified how his organization – which provides information and legal assistance for developing minority businesses – could not award federal technology research contracts to his alma mater and to UMES in the 1990s because they lacked the institutional support services required by the government.
The contracts went to Clark-Atlanta University, an HBCU in Georgia, and to the University of Delaware in Newark, he testified.
“It’s such a huge loss of opportunity – because the best and the brightest minds at these institutions are not working on these projects,” Robinson testified. “It’s a huge loss for the institutions because they’re losing access to the billions of dollars for research and development that flow into the state.
“And it’s a loss for the students because they’re not having access to private industry and the technologies that drive innovation.”