In an eighth-floor dormitory suite at Morgan State University, a group of freshman women took a break from Tuesday's first day of classes to watch "General Hospital" in their modern, air-conditioned room.
Life in the new Clarence W. Blount Towers -- complete with a vista of the Baltimore skyline and the shimmering waters beneath the Francis Scott Key Bridge -- represents a new era at Morgan.
With $37 million spent in construction over the last two years and a fall enrollment of 4,733, Morgan is starting to get results in the campaign to recover its glory days of the 1970s when enrollment peaked at 6,000.
The dorms tell the story.
Three years ago, the historically black university's accreditation was threatened in a report from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, which noted "extremely poor and potentially hazardous" dorm conditions, including exposed electrical wires, peeling paint and broken windows.
When the problems were not corrected, angry students took over the administration building in March 1990, starting a six-day protest that ended in a grievance session with Gov. William Donald Schaefer in Annapolis.
The students complained about unequal funding. From 1950 through 1979, Morgan received $753,500 for dorm construction and renovation and new dining halls, while neighboring Towson State University got $11.2 million and tiny Frostburg State got $9 million.
The students also complained of unsafe and unhealthy conditions in the dorms, as cited in the accreditation report. They also were concerned about campus safety, financial aid and a tuition increase.
"What it did was to give added visibility to the need for the work," said Morgan State President Earl S. Richardson, recalling the protest.
While Schaefer was sympathetic to the students, Richardson said the protest did not have a direct impact on the construction of Blount towers and renovation of Cummings and Baldwin Hall dormitories.
"It would be unfair to the governor to say that he gave it as a result [of the protest]," Richardson said. "They would be able to pull the records and show that they had started the funding, and I would have to agree with them."
Just before the takeover, the state agreed to add $14.4 million to a $20 million bond sale to cover the renovations and construction, allowing the face lift to begin. Under a long-standing policy, all dormitory construction had been funded from bonds retired through student fees.
Inside the $14 million Blount Towers, two buildings that are connected by hallways on each floor, students live in 300 rooms furnished with metallic blue furniture made by state prison inmates. Each room has a twin bed, a desk-cabinet and a locker-like storage area.