When Maryland Higher Education Secretary Shaila Aery proposed merging predominantly black Morgan State University with crosstown cousin Coppin State College in July, black leaders didn't even want to talk about it.
Now, at least, they're willing to study the idea.
At a meeting Wednesday between Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Aery, alumni of Morgan and Coppin and members of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus, Aery's proposal was refined, or at least given a politically palatable name.
Instead of studying a merger, a task force will study how to "enhance and improve the efficiency of the operations and how they address educational needs of the Baltimore area and of the African American community," Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings, D-City, said yesterday.
That study will include subjects such as "cooperative programs and activities," or merging some programs at Morgan and Coppin to "concentrate existing resources," according to a press release issued after meeting.
The higher education commission is to appoint the task force in September and the study is to start in the fall.
Aery's plan to study consolidating Morgan and Coppin drew strong objections from officials and alumni of both schools, the Black Caucus and the Coalition of 100 Black Women.
In addition, a Committee Against the Study of the Consolidation of Coppin and Morgan was formed under former U.S. Rep. Parren J. Mitchell and Samuel T. Daniels, grand mason of the Prince Hall Masons.
"It is extremely difficult not to suspect racism when policies of expansion where majority group people are the principal recipients become policies of contraction when the beneficiaries are black," the committe wrote in a position paper.
"The African American community has been victimized over and over again by such actions that are reputedly objective and in the best interest of all concerned. . . . In fact, many of the hard-won gains of the Civil Rights Revolution have been reversed by such measures."
In fact, Aery's proposal to study merging Morgan State and Coppin State was delivered alongside a plan to study a much larger consolidation of the predominantly white University of Maryland at Baltimore and UM Baltimore County.
Aery said she wants to pool higher education resources at some state institutions in the Baltimore area and eliminate duplication of courses. Mergers would also save money at a time when Schaefer is ordering multimillion-dollar budget cuts to avoid a state deficit, she said.
The UM Board of Regents voted Wednesday to study a UMAB-UMBC merger, a move which was received optimistically by representatives of both institutions.
Morgan State President Earl Richardson said yesterday he was unaware of this week's meeting. Richardson said the MSU Board of Trustees is expected to take a position on Aery's merger proposal at its October meeting.
"I am not sure where it's all leading," Richardson said. "I have accepted the idea that there would be a study and to the extent that we can be helpful, we will."
Coppin State President Calvin W. Burnett, who has strongly opposed the task force study of a merger, could not be reached for comment.