ANNAPOLIS -- The idea of merging two public historically black colleges in Baltimore has proven so sensitive that Quentin R. Lawson took it upon himself to find an objective group to look into the issue.
In recent weeks, the vice chairman of the Maryland Higher Education Commission has inquired of candidates' state of mind the way a lawyer quizzes potential jurors: Have they ruled out a merger of Coppin State College and Morgan State University altogether? Could they keep an open mind when reviewing the facts?
"I asked them myself," Mr. Lawson said yesterday as the commission released the names of 10 people who will study how to improve academics at both campuses and build an urban research university at the same time. The panel is designed to insure a "due and open process," Mr. Lawson said. "That's what I am banking on."
As several hundred students rallied against a merger at Coppin State in West Baltimore yesterday, Mr. Lawson, a former Baltimore science teacher and now executive director of the Washington-based National Forum for Black Public Administrators, said the substance of the panel's final report -- what it says about the prospects of state funds and the likelihood of improvements on both campus -- could pale the opposition. But he also said it could conclude that "merger is not the best route."
Since a merger was suggested in a state plan this spring, a group led by former U.S. Sen. Parren J. Mitchell and by Samuel T. Daniels, grand master of the Prince Hall Masons, has formed to oppose even studying the idea.
One result is that the job of the task force has expanded considerably, Mr. Lawson said. It now includes studying the idea of sharing academic departments -- at least four programs are offered on both campuses -- and an analysis of how efficiently each campus manages its resources to accomplish the same thing.
A Coppin-Morgan task force was one of three panels set up yesterday by the state education commission on topics that have proved controversial in the past.
The second would study whether to expand either or both of the engineering programs now split between Morgan State and the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Each campus has half of the offerings normally found in a university engineering program as the result of an inability to decide where in Baltimore to put a second public engineering program.
The third task force will examine the way colleges educate teachers with an eye toward emphasizing a liberal arts and sciences curriculum. It follows a controversial proposal by state Higher Education Secretary Shaila R. Aery to nearly eliminate traditional colleges of education in favor of post-university teacher certification programs for candidates who earn undergraduate degrees in fields other than education.
Of all the proposals, part of a state master plan for higher education, none has generated the kind of emotional reaction as the Coppin-Morgan idea.
Archie Jackson, 23, a junior biological science major at Coppin, said students are prepared to stage sit-ins to stop a merger. He said classes have gotten bigger since Coppin became part of the state university system three years ago, and in a merger, "both schools are going to lose their identity."
Members of the Coppin-Morgan task force, all of whom are black, include former city schools Superintendent Alice G. Pinderhughes, Bishop Monroe Saunders of the United Church of Jesus Christ Apostolic in West Baltimore, Anne Emery, chair of the Coalition of 100 Black Women, as well as representatives from alumni groups.