HBCU ‘Equality’ Lawsuit: Proving the Maryland Higher Education Hypocrisy


Earl S. Richardson envisioned a plan that would have allowed both his predominantly Black Morgan State University in Baltimore and largely White Towson University 15 miles away to jointly offer a high-quality MBA program that would have the additional benefit of making their universities more racially diverse.

Richardson, who retired as president of Morgan last year after 26 years of service, recounted the effort Thursday the last day of testimony in the landmark $2.1 billion suit to make Maryland’s four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) “comparable and competitive” to the state’s majority White universities.

“Morgan proposed a three-plus-two program that would be a collaborative effort between Morgan State and Towson State. What we said is that students in their third year and their fourth year of Towson could begin to take courses in the MBA program at Morgan that could then be used to satisfy part of the requirements for the baccalaureate at Towson, as well as go toward the MBA at Morgan, and they would end up in five years with both the baccalaureate and the master's degree or the MBA,” said Richardson, who returned to the stand as a rebuttal witness.

“We also said that the faculty of Towson would be admitted to the graduate faculty at Morgan, and they could teach in the program. We were told that Towson's faculty did not want to teach at Morgan, that its students did not want to come to Morgan, that Towson was not a feeder school, [that] it was not a community college.”

Instead, Towson proposed a program that would add the University of Baltimore to the mix and ultimately grant Towson the ability to award MBA degrees, state authorization that Morgan and Bowie State University had at the time. After Morgan rejected that proposal, the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) approved a MBA program in 2005 operated jointly by Towson and the University of Baltimore.

After its MBA program was allowed to be duplicated by the two predominantly White universities, Morgan’s White enrollment in its MBA program dropped from a high of 50 to about two, according to Richardson’s testimony earlier in the trial.

That was just one example of what the lawsuit called “the unnecessary duplication of HBCU academic programs by geographically proximate TWIs [traditionally White institutions].”

The lawsuit filed against MHEC alleges that Maryland “systematically engaged in policies and practices that established and perpetuated a racially segregated system of higher education.”

Consequently, the state’s four HBCUs – Morgan State University, Bowie State University, Coppin State University and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore – have never received their fair share of resources.
The suit was filed six years ago by the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education Inc., a community-based group made up of alumni of public HBCUs in Maryland and other interested parties. It is seeking $2.1 billion to upgrade the state’s four HBCUs. Attorneys for the plaintiffs include Michael D. Jones a partner of Kirkland & Ellis law firm, Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Aderson B. Francois of the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic.

The six-week bench trial before U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake in Baltimore ended Thursday. The final ruling is expected early this summer.

Following the trial phase, both sides have 70 days to file briefs and another 30 days to reply to the other side’s filings. Sometime after the 100 days, the attorneys will make their closing arguments before the judge.

In his opening statement, Attorney Jones said, “Maryland has not eradicated the vestiges of segregation.” He said from 1990 to 2009, the state provided its HBCUs $2.19 billion less in unrestricted revenues, and $644 million less in state appropriations.

David Wilson, who succeeded Richardson as president of Morgan State, testified: “The maintenance budget is woefully inadequate. You’re constantly moving things around to patch a leak here or install an air conditioner there. A university cannot effectively carry out is programmatic mission unless it has the funds to do that.”

University of Wisconsin Education Professor Clifton F. Conrad, testifying as an expert witness for the plaintiffs, said that Maryland continues to operate a segregated higher education system.

He said: “The dual education systems remain. There continues to be substantial differences – severe differences – in terms of the number of programs and the quality of programs. Those students who enter Maryland’s historically Black institutions – whether Black, White, or other races – do not have an equal educational opportunity as those students who attend the state’s traditionally White institutions.”

Jones, for the coalition, said after the trial: “In some ways, what the testimony showed was Maryland’s blatant hypocrisy in talking out of both sides of its mouth.

Outside the courtroom, Maryland acknowledges that HBCUs need substantial extra resources to attract a diverse student body and create unique academic programs.

But in court, they argued that the HBCUs are overfunded – even more than the TWIs. There’s a big disconnect between what they presented in court and what’s in their own reports and what they’ve been saying out in public.”

David Burton, a 1967 Morgan graduate who is president of the coalition that brought the suit said: “We are very, very gratified that we have reached this point in the lawsuit. We have made the case, connected the dots and demonstrated that, going back to the de jure era, the state has undermined the competitiveness of the HBCUs.”

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HBCU 'Equality' Lawsuit: Proving the Maryland Higher Education Hypocrisy

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