“A billion is not enough,” said Senator Joan Carter Conway (D) District 43 at HBCU Night, a convening of legislators and students, presidents and alumni of Maryland’s four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
Approximately 100 persons were in attendance at the standing-room only event. Every HBCU seemed to be represented in the audience, from “M” pins representing Maroon University of Maryland Eastern Shore, blue Coppin State letterman jackets, Bowie State’s black and gold scarves and Morgan State blue and orange Bears gear.
The presidents of Bowie State University and University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Aminta Hawkins Breaux and Juliette Bell, respectively, spoke to the conditions of each of their campuses on the ground, such as the immediate need for funding.
Many figures were bandied about in the Montgomery County room of Maryland’s House of Delegates, as stakeholders tried toprime the cost of decades of discriminatory practices towards Maryland’s four HBCUs: Morgan State, Coppin, Bowie and University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
But Gov. Larry Hogan’s February offer of $100 million was not found worthy of consideration.
“Prior to litigation, they owed the historically Black institutions 300 to 600 million dollars,” Conway said. “We’re 12 years down the road. It was anticipated, after litigation, that they owed the historically Black institutions a billion to two billion dollars. It was $2.5 billion and counting the last I looked at it.”
The Hogan administration’s offer of $100 million would be neither a lump sum, nor a downpayment on future redress. Instead, it would be doled out over the next 10 years.
“It’s insulting and we would definitely not accept that. That’s $2.5 million per institution,” Conway said.
Besides real dollars, also at issue during the event were recent procedural matters stemming from Judge Catherine C. Blake’s ruling that the state and its HBCUs return to mediation in The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, et al. v. Maryland Higher Education Commission, et al.
HBCU Night’s theme, as printed on the agenda and emblazoned on the podium,. was “Withdraw the Appeal.”
Attorney General Brian E. Frosh has since filed an appeal to the Fourth Circuit that would stop the mediation process and allow the state to reargue the facts of the case.
Frosh is the only named party on behalf of the state in the final draft of the HBCU Night agenda, but Conway added nuance to Frosh’s role as both legal advocate and legal advisor to the governor and the General Assembly.
“He filed the appeal because that’s his duty to file the appeal,” Conway said. “The attorney general’s function for the state is to defend the state, so it is contingent upon what the governor says when they finally decide whether or not they’re gonna file those appeals.”
Dwight Pettit, a Baltimore attorney, took exception to this characterization.
“The constitution says the attorney general has to defend suits against the state of Maryland,” Pettit said. “Filing an appeal is not defending a suit. Filing an appeal is an affirmative action by the attorney general to stop a lower court.”
Unlike at the federal level, the Attorney General for the State of Maryland is elected directly by the people as opposed to appointed by the chief executive.
Beyond the obvious delays in redress of damages to HBCUs, Pettit saw a more “devious” motive in Frosh’s appeal.
“Regardless of what takes place in the Fourth Circuit, they’re trying to get an avenue to what? The United States Supreme Court,” Pettit said. “Now, the reason for that is because we are now talking about a Trump court, meaning there’s a 5-4 majority conservative court.”
The proceedings opened with a challenge: that each candidate in the Maryland governor’s race offer up a position paper to the convener of the Maryland HBCU Matters Coalition, Marvin Cheatham.
Of the two candidates in attendance, Ben Jealous and Rich Madaleno, only Madaleno had delivered a paper so far. Cheatham expressed confidence that one would be coming from Jealous. Jim Shea did not make an appearance but had delivered a paper, Cheatham said.
Madaleno had hard copies on hand and at the request of the AFRO.
Madaleno’s proposes an allocation of $1 billion for Maryland’s HBCUs beginning with contributions from the state’s $400 million surplus. Madaleno told the AFRO how this plan could have expansive salutary benefits to the Maryland education system at large.
“We need to improve our schools of education; let’s start by making that investment,” Madaleno told the AFRO. “We spend a lot of time talking about niche programs [so] let’s start by using the School of Education at Bowie, the School of Education at Coppin as the place where we start this effort to rebuild and transform our teacher education programs as an essential part of improving our K-12 system.”
While the Legislative Black Caucus awaits additional position papers, an informational picket of the attorney general’s office is scheduled for April 4.