Court Vindicates Black Lawmakers


The recent ruling by Federal District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake declaring the Maryland practice of unnecessary academic program duplication between Historical Black Institutions (HBIs) and Traditionally White Institutions (TWIs) to be unconstitutional is a true vindication of Baltimore State Senator Joan Carter Conway and Eastern Shore Delegate Rudolf Cane in their efforts to protect the State against itself. The two lawmakers tried several times during the last 10 years to effect changes in state policies and practices related to academic program duplication only to be rebuffed by their legislative colleagues, University System of Maryland officials and whoever the governor was at the time.

Judge Blake’s ruling requires the state to not only revise its policies and practices, but also to repair the damage done to HBIs by its refusal to act earlier. The costs of that repair will be considerable because of the required outlay for new programs, faculty, facilities, financial aid and other enhancements to the HBIs. But the cost to the image and reputation of the State of Maryland for lawmakers resisting change to its southern-grown policy of academic program duplication is far greater. It is a cost that cannot be measured in dollars and cents; but instead must be expressed in lost opportunity for Maryland students and forgone contributions to the social, economic and political welfare of our city, state and nation.

Yet history threatens to repeat itself. Before the ink on the court’s ruling was dry, Gov. Martin O’Malley issued a statement which some might consider a veiled threat to appeal if the Coalition dares to invoke the remedies suggested in the ruling. He denies that the state practice of unnecessary duplication is unconstitutional, and focuses instead on the Judge’s assertion that the Coalition failed to show Maryland policies on funding for operations and facilities discriminated against HBIs. Comments by USM Chancellor William Kirwan, the person most responsible for the increase in duplication between the various campuses, echo the sentiments of the Governor. Statements made by the Secretary of Higher Education are no better; and the lackluster and uninspiring responses from the administrations of HBI campuses confirm that Governor O’Malley’s lead statement has become the party line.

There is broad consensus that the Federal District Court ruling in the Coalition case ranks among the most significant civil rights cases decided in the last century. Like Brown V Board of Education (1954), the Blake ruling has the potential for changing the course of history in many very important ways. It provides in particular a most unusual opportunity for reshaping our public systems of higher education to include Historically Black colleges as equal partners.

Marylanders should join in commending the coalition of HBI students, faculty, alumni and supporters and the international law firm of Kirkland and Ellis for the very timely gift of the Black ruling. Even higher commendations go to the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under the Law for facilitating the marriage between the Coalition and the law firm. Unfortunately, the task is not over. The State and the Coalition will soon enter mediation, and if this type of litigation in other southern states is any example, Maryland will fight to the point of disgrace in order to maintain its segregated system of colleges and universities. Blacks, Hispanics, Whites and anyone else who understands the ravages of discrimination must assume the role of foot soldiers, prepared to do whatever is necessary to ensure that Maryland immediately dismantles its dual system of higher education, and in so doing, become the example others might wish to emulate.

A Dwight Pettit practices law in Maryland and is a former member of the Board of Regents, University of Maryland Systems.

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