Failing in Place–The Maryland Legislators’ Wall of Shame

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In the midst of the 2016 General Assembly session, the faculty leadership of Maryland’s four Historically Black Institutions (HBCU’s)—Morgan State University, Coppin State University, Bowie State University, 7fbdb0020c2fdca1709364691551105band University of Maryland Eastern Shore—held a  rally in Annapolis to announce the creation of the HBCU Faculty Caucus.  The purpose of the group was to be a united voice in support of HBCU equity issues and to exert pressure on statelegislators to do the right thing: make the State of Maryland obey a federal judge’s orders to stop its continuing policies and practices which maintain and perpetuate racial discrimination and segregation in higher education.

Over three weeks ago, the AFRO put a bright spotlight on the apathy and alleged ignorance of members of the Baltimore City state delegation, particularly those who belong to the  Legislative Black Caucus, as they voted in support of the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership Act of 2016 (“2016 Partnership Act”), demonstrating that  they could fall in line with the desires of the General Assembly’s top leadership and the express will of the Chancellor of the University System of Maryland.

Delegate Frank Conaway, Jr. made excuses on “The Carl Douglas” radio show that he and others had signed on to “the vision” of Michael Erin Busch, Speaker of the House, as it pertained to giving funds to the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore while excluding consideration of increased funding for Historically Black Institutions such as Morgan State University and Coppin State University.

According to a source close to the Legislative Black Caucus, the group never met to discuss the harmful impact the 2016 Partnership Act’s House and Senate bills would have on Baltimore City’s Morgan and Coppin universities. This is an especially stunning admission in light of the federal district court’s ruling in the HBCU equity lawsuit that the State of Maryland continues to operate a separate and unequal system of higher education that is segregated by race and which discriminates against students attending the four HBCUs.  Such practice by the State of Maryland was declared by the court in the HBCU equity lawsuit to be in violation of the United States Constitution and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which violation requires significant remedial relief to undo the harms and inequities visited upon these institutions and students for decades.

In fact, the State funding to the College Park and UMB campuses to be allocated under the 2016 Partnership Act was crafted, considered and adopted while the State in the HBCU equity lawsuit remains in court questioning and vigorously opposing the costs of a remedial proposal offered by the plaintiff coalition of HBCU students, faculty, alumni and supporters as being essential to the enhancement of the State’s HBCU’s and the elimination of the continuing vestiges of the long-standing segregated system of higher education in Maryland.

Shame

Close to 95% of the Baltimore City elected state officials voted “Yes” over and over again on the 2016 Partnership Act.  The undeniable and collective failure, by the Baltimore City state delegation and, in particular, the Legislative Black Caucus members, to stand up in support of the City’s HBCU’s is appalling at best, and at minimum downright shameful.  And herein lies the shame:  no discussions were held and no questions were raised by these legislators as the proposed 2016 Partnership Act bills created a megaflagship institution of the College Park and UMB campuses that could only be established and maintained over the years by draining resources from the State’s other institutions of higher education and which, in particular, diminish the institutional identity and presence of the two HBCU’s in Baltimore City.

On this ground alone, other voices were raised in opposition to the bills, including the faculty and student leadership of both Traditionally White and HBCU institutions.  On this ground, a former Chancellor and a sitting Regent of the University System of Maryland testified against the bills.  But nary a word from the Baltimore City state delegation and the Legislative Black Caucus.

Again, this is especially egregious in light of the continuing equity lawsuit litigation and the State’s concrete obligation to direct substantial financial, programmatic resources to the HBCU’s in order to remedy its past proven discriminatory conduct.  These legislators never raised their voices to question the impact of the 2016 Partnership Act on the State’s HBCU’s and, in particular, Morgan and Coppin, nor did they inquire as to the legitimacy of the State directing substantial new funding to the already enriched College Park and UMB campuses while opposing the funding of comprehensive remedies necessary to fix the Constitutional violations at issue in the on going HBCU equity litigation.

Not one question was even raised as to why the 2016 Partnership Act bills’ practical merger of the College Park and UMB campuses was such an educationally and fiscally sound proposal while the proposal of a more modest merger of the University of Baltimore into Morgan State University — one proposed component of a comprehensive remedy offered in the equity lawsuit litigation but vehemently opposed by the State — was an “extreme, costly and untenable” proposal that could not even be considered consistent with sound educational practices and justification.  The silence of these legislators was deafening as was their collective failure to advance the interests of the HBCUs and their constituent communities.

Following is the AFRO’s “Wall of Shame.” It is on the members of the Legislative Black Caucus, because they claim their mission is to provide leadership in advocating and implementing programs and policies that serve the best interests of the Black community. The lingering question is: When are Black legislators going to stop throwing Black schools under the bus for their own personal ambitions?

WallOfShame

When Delegate Curt Anderson, who represents Morgan’s district, can willfully sponsor a bill that limits access to desperately needed investment dollars and enthusiastically welcomes imbalanced competition a stone’s throw away from Morgan State University, there has to be accountability.

The same applies to State Senator Catherine Pugh, who recently won the Baltimore City Democratic Mayoral primary.  Pugh, an actual graduate of Morgan State University, campaigned to move Baltimore forward, but she stood in the shadows voting “Yes” at first and then absent at the final vote for the Act that sets Morgan, its students, faculty, and educated Black constituents backwards by giving well-funded White Institutions access to millions more dollars.  In actual fact, the development of Morgan on the eastside and Coppin in West Baltimore would go a long way in creating the kind of city she seeks to foster.

While supporters of the 2016 Partnership Act argue that it did not bring about a literal merger of the Traditionally White College Park and UMB campuses , it is still  a sly ruse and cunning perpetuation of “de jure segregation” practices by the State of Maryland and her legislators. The 2016 Partnership Act facilitates the merging of existing and new resources to already well-heeled and privileged Traditionally White Institutions to the detriment of the State’s other institutions.  And consistent with the State’s history of segregation and discrimination, that harm is visited tenfold upon the four HBCU’s and their academic programs.

Applying Pressure

In an emergency situation if there is a wound, you apply pressure to stop the bleeding. Morgan State and Coppin State universities in the City of Baltimore are wounded and hemorrhaging from both a lack of investment and the impact of the decades long protracted duplicative academic programming practices by the State of Maryland that threaten their survival.

With the passage of the 2016 Partnership Act, the “pressure” that stops the bleeding begins with a demand for answers from every single member listed on the “Wall of Shame.”

It’s not that elected officials may not do good work occasionally, but there are clear moments in time when one bad act overshadows many small acts of good because it is done either willfully or out of indifference.  In the long struggle for civil rights and equal educational opportunity, it is the indifference of good people that often stands as the greatest obstacle to progress.  And it is the indifference of good people that facilitates the harmful actions of the bad actors among us.

Lawmakers in the Legislative Black Caucus are counting on voters to overlook their regulatory “dis” to Maryland’s HBCUs, where they have set up the constituent institutions of the University System of Maryland to receive at minimum $18M in mandatory funding for the next five years above and beyond their normal share of public dollars. It goes without saying, however, that most of these institutions are Traditionally White campuses with whom Bowie, Coppin and UMES must compete for any share of those funds.  We already know how that battle has played out historically.  Morgan, which operates outside of the University System of Maryland, would have no access to such additional funds.  At the same time, none of this additional funding will come close to the amount of money the State of Maryland will redirect to the Traditionally White College Park and UMB campuses to establish and maintain the new megaflagship institution that is now created by the 2016 Partnership Act.  The politicians will hope that no one legitimately asks why they continue to support the perpetuation of the inequities of segregation in Maryland’s higher education system with laws and policies that fly in the face of the findings and conclusions of a federal judge in  the HBCU equity lawsuit lost by the State of Maryland in 2013 and which continues now in the ever so important remedial phase of the litigation.

Maryland is not above complying with the federal Civil Rights laws and the U.S. Constitution and Baltimore City state legislators cannot act without accountability in their belief that they get to operate as though they are above the law when it comes to our HBCU’s

As members on Maryland’s “Wall of Shame” contemplate what they have done to harm students at Baltimore City’s and Maryland’s HBCU’s, perhaps they’ll envision a time when they will more consistently find the conviction to do more than fall in line like toy soldiers when the leadership of the General Assembly gives a command.