As the nation is celebrating Black History Month, The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education—students, alumni and friends of Morgan State University, Bowie State University, Coppin State University, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore– the State of Maryland, and federal district judge Catherine C. Blake have an opportunity to make Black college history and change the course of the State and the nation relative to the valuation of and investment in historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
After more than 35 years in the making, and following five years of settlement negotiations, The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, Inc., Et Al v. Maryland Higher Education Commission, Et Al. is nearing an end after a six week bench trial. Judge Blake will have an opportunity to correct the ignominious legacy and lingering practice by the State of investing inequitably in its HBCUs by awarding the plaintiffs the $2 billion they seek. The award has the potential to make Maryland’s HBCUs “comparable to and competitive with” the historically White colleges and universities relative to funding, facilities/capital improvements, and course/program offerings.
Judge Blake has a tremendous opportunity to make history and change the higher education landscape not only in the State of Maryland, but also in similarly situated states across the nation by establishing a best practices measurement model of “comparability” and “competitiveness.” By ruling for the plaintiffs as the evidence warrants, Judge Blake could make Black college history and establish good state practice by going further than the monetary award, and establishing a clear, consistent, common instrument with which to inventory and strengthen state public colleges and universities. The instrument should take into account the states’ higher education goals that should include: increasing access and success especially for students and families traditionally underserved or underrepresented in higher education; increasing affordability; establishing a just system of accountability; supporting policies to enable the states to achieve eminence in targeted growth and high need areas and to meet their workforce, social, civic and political needs. The instrument must also take into account the unique and varied missions of the public higher education institutions in the states, especially the HBCUs in the State of Maryland and the seventeen other states that still maintain dual and unequal public higher education systems. The instrument must additionally fairly compensate institutions for the lingering effects of dual and unequal higher education systems.
The evidence offered by the plaintiffs and defendants in this case suggests that both the monetary demand and the development of a common yardstick by which to measure “comparability” and “competitiveness,” that can be used nationwide, is appropriate. Both actions should be taken. This Black History Month, “The Old Line State” should go “New School!” This Black History Month, Judge Blake should liberate, “The Free State” from the remaining vestiges of its admittedly sorry history of de jure discrimination.
It would be fitting for Maryland to become an exemplar in Twenty-First Century higher education discrimination remediation, and establish a model framework. For Judge Blake to establish a model comparability measure would finish the unfinished business begun in the State in 1936 with Marylanders taking courageous action to tear down barriers to equal educational opportunity in public higher education. The case of Pearson v. Murray, 182 A. 590 (1936) started the State of Maryland and the nation on the journey that has led to this point in history. In Pearson, Donald Gain Murray was denied admission to the University of Maryland Law School because of his race, and the Maryland Court of Appeals held that Murray should have been admitted to the existing state law school. This Black History Month, I urge Judge Blake to make Black college history and follow the history of the State by taking the courageous and just action of granting plaintiffs the relief warranted by the clear and compelling evidence of record. I urge Judge Blake to change the course of the State and the nation relative to the valuation of and investment in historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Lezli Baskerville is president and CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO). NAFEO is the national membership association of the 105 HBCUs and 50 PBIs, organized to articulate the need for a higher education system where race, income, and previous education are not the determinants of either the quantity or quality of higher education. For more information, visit www.nafeo.org