In an unusual and confounding move, attorneys for Maryland relied on an expert witness who acknowledged that he never visited the four Black institutions before concluding that they had received sufficient state funding over the past years to remedy past racial discrimination. Instead he relied upon his own computation of state funding based upon proportional student enrollment at each of the States public colleges and universities, a methodology that has been discredited in similar lawsuits in other states.
The expert, Allan J. Lichtman, a history professor at American University in Washington, D.C., testified: “The bottom line is the state has been investing substantial amounts of capital [and operational] allocations over a 27-year period in the historically Black institutions relative to the six non-historically Black institutions, not counting the University of Maryland-College Park.”
Lichtman chose to exclude University of Maryland-College Park in his analysis apparently due to his concern that its inclusion would create a skewed statistical picture.
Lichtman’s testimony last week was part of a larger effort to prove that the state of Maryland has done more than enough to remedy past racial discrimination. The testimony was given as part of a $2.1 billion suit filed in 2006 to compel the state to make its four HBCUs –Morgan State University, Bowie State University, Coppin State University and the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore – “comparable and competitive.”
While neglecting to adequately fund the four Black universities, the suit contends, White state institutions of higher education the University of Maryland- College Park, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, Towson University and Salisbury University (TWIs)– were provided resources that gave them significant advantages over HBCUs.
The suit was filed against the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) by the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, Inc., a consortium of students and alumna of the various Maryland HBCUs who share a frustration with the state’s continuous neglect of HBCUs and the education of African American students.
The selection of a historian to serve as an expert on statistics was a curious one, according to many court observers. Typically, mathematicians or statisticians are used to analyze and comment on numbers. Moreover, Lichtman admitted that he reached his conclusions without ever visiting any campuses or interviewing the head of any of the universities in question.
Lichtman’s narrow testimony did go to the heart of the suit that includes allegations that the state weakened HBCUs by limiting their missions, permitting unnecessary duplication of HBCU academic programs by White universities and allowing buildings on Black campuses to fall into disrepair.
After breaking down state funding on a per pupil basis (FTE), Lichtman asserted, “Even with College Park included, historically Black institutions are about equal to the non-historically Black institutions.”
But Lichtman seemed ambivalent when Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of the attorneys for the Coalition, commented on cross-examination that per pupil spending on Black universities also exceeded that of their White counterparts during de jure segregation. In response, Lichtman simply stated “I did not review the de jure era”.
“How could anyone possibly say either Coppin or Morgan has fared as well as College Park or any other White campus?” asked Claude Parker, an alumnus of Morgan. “College Park is like a city within a city, with massive buildings.”
Lichtman’s decision to use FTEs – full-time equivalent students –as a yardstick is a questionable methodology. Judges handling higher education desegregation cases have refused to rely on such measurements.
In Knight & Sims v. Alabama, for example, the judge ruled that proportional FTE funding, even if it favors HBCUs, does not demonstrate adequate funding necessary to remedy past racial discrimination.
The impact of the picture painted by Lichtman of Maryland’s four HBCUs being institutions whose edifices, facilities and resources far out-gleam the TWIs, awaits the outcome of the trial.
The current phase of the trial is expected to come to an end this week. Experts have indicated that a decision should not be anticipated until some time this summer.