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Home News Afro Briefs Originally published January 22, 2014

Senate Committee Searches for Answers about Maryland’s Predicament in HBI Court Case

Why We Fight

by David Burton
Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education

    Maryland's Historically Black College's and Universities. (Courtesy Image)
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The Maryland Senate Committee on Education, Health and Environmental Affairs held a hearing just before the Christmas holidays to discuss the major findings and related implications of the Federal District Court ruling against the State of Maryland for the State’s failure to desegregate its system of higher education. The court ruled that Maryland continues to maintain a dual system of higher education, one Black and one White, by unnecessarily duplicating programs at its Historically Black Institutions (HBIs) and Traditionally White Institutions (TWIs) located near one another. Committee staff summarized the decision issued by Judge Catherine C. Blake, followed by position statements from the opposing attorneys and other representative of both the Coalition bringing the lawsuit and the state of Maryland.

The briefings appeared to create great concern among committee members, with one member proposing a study to determine how the State managed to get in the position of having its system of higher education declared unconstitutional. He wanted to know specifically how the State was able to build the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) from the ground up; develop the previously private University of Baltimore (UB) as a public campus; and expand Towson University (TU) to be several times its prior size, without appropriately developing the HBIs. It is a question any reasonable person concerned with efficiency of government or who genuinely cares about fairness and equal educational opportunity might ask. How did Maryland get itself in such a politically embarrassing, legally indefensible and morally reprehensible position?

Judge Catherine C. Blake says in her decision: “During the 1960’s and 1970’s, in the wake of Brown, Maryland’s HBIs began offering unique, high demand programs and began attracting significant numbers of White students. Rather than build on that progress, however, Maryland made very large investments in TWIs, particularly newly created Towson and UMBC that undermined gains in desegregation. These investments included further duplication of programs at already existing TWIs and creating new public institutions in geographic proximity to existing HBIs including UB, Towson and UMBC.”

Further reading of the judge’s decision makes it abundantly clear that the actions of the State were calculated and deliberate; and that any effort the State may have made to desegregate its system of higher education was enough to somehow escape public criticism, but certainly not enough to withstand the scrutiny of law.

She writes: “The State offered no evidence that it has made any serious effort to address continuing historic duplication. Second, and even more troublingly, the State has failed to prevent additional unnecessary duplication, to the detriment of the HBIs.”

Beyond concern over the court’s core finding, most of the questions raised by committee members related to the judge’s reference to the likelihood of programs having to be transferred from TWIs to HBIs in order to eliminate past and future duplication. Specifically, legislators asked if it were absolutely necessary to make the transfers in order to bring the State in compliance with federal law.

Representatives for the State and advocates for the Coalition differed in their response; however, the judge emphasizes that “It is also likely that the transfer or merger of select high-demand programs from TWIs to HBIs will be necessary.”

To fully understand the extent of harm the State has done to its HBIs and their students, alumni, faculty, and staff; and the neglect of the communities where these institutions are located, consider the example of Morgan State University in the instance of UMBC and the engineering program. Even before segregated schools were ruled unconstitutional, a report done in 1947 by the state-supported Marbury Commission indicated that Morgan compared favorably with the University of Maryland College Park in the quality of its programs, faculty, students and regional accreditation. It recommended that an engineering program be added to the Baltimore city campus, while warning of the existence of too many other public campuses in the state. The Commission’s recommendations for Morgan were ignored; and it was during the three decades following the study, that UMBC was established, Towson was expanded and the University of Baltimore was incorporated into the state system. 

Thirty five years after the initial recommendation for engineering at Morgan; some 20 years after Morgan proposed that it be developed as a multiracial campus; and after a second state study recommending engineering education be established in Baltimore, the State finally authorized the development of engineering at the Morgan campus. But rather than create a comprehensive school of engineering at Morgan, the state approved undergraduate programs only in electrical, civil and industrial engineering. It also authorized the University of Maryland College Park to offer its undergraduate programs in chemical and mechanical engineering at the newly developed UMBC campus.

With less than modest investment, engineering quickly emerged as one of Morgan’s signature programs by which the campus became nationally recognized. Enrollments grew rapidly. Consistent with state goals for diversity, the percentage of African American recipients of engineering degrees rose from about three percent in the early 1980’s to about 16 percent in the mid-nineties, many of whom went on to major research institutions for graduate studies. Almost as quickly, the State created a stand-alone, competing school of engineering at UMBC to eventually include duplicates of the computer engineering phase of the Morgan electrical engineering program and graduate programs in electrical, computer and civil engineering among other areas. This well-funded competition within 12 miles of the Morgan campus was devastating.

As the full impact of duplication at UMBC took effect, the facilities at Morgan deteriorated and the academic and racial mix of the student body began to change. Except for the courageous leadership and unrelenting perseverance of two of the Institution’s most revered and longest serving presidents, Martin Jenkins and Earl S. Richardson, the harm already done to students, faculty and staff and alumni may have mushroomed and continued well into the future.

One of the senators on the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee noted that it is time the State address the condition of the HBIs for it has already gone too long. The Coalition agrees and hopes that the State will join us in accomplishing that goal.

David Burton is president of the Coalition.



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