A union not made in heaven

Magdalene B. Fennell

October 23, 1991|By Magdalene B. Fennell

THERE WAS a time when the merger of Coppin State College and Morgan State University would have been acceptable to both institutions and to the black community at large. The year was 1950; the occasion, the abandonment of Coppin as a teacher training center.

An article in The Sun of March 7, 1950, succinctly described the situation. "Coppin, which now trains Negro elementary teachers for Baltimore city schools, has been ordered closed in June by the school board, and the state has been asked to train all elementary teachers for the city's Negro schools."

To enable students already enrolled in Coppin to complete their training, the state Board of Education proposed that Coppin be absorbed by the black teacher college at Bowie (now Bowie State University). Opposition to the plan was swift and spirited, with the Parents Organization of Coppin counter-proposing that Coppin's functions be transferred either to Morgan State College or to the state teachers college at Towson. The parents' proposal was certainly reasonable. Coppin had a student body of 198, all from and living in Baltimore. The commute to Bowie would be expensive and time-consuming. It would deny students the cultural advantages of Baltimore.

Of course, moving Coppin to Towson was out of the question. Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court's desegregation ruling, was still four years away, so combining a black college and a white one was out of the question.

Why the merger of Coppin and Morgan was not more actively pursued is unclear. Perhaps the state's decision to construct a new school in Baltimore city for the training of black elementary teachers made the Morgan alternative less attractive. At any rate, the opportunity to merge the two schools soon passed. The idea is dead and cannot be resurrected, although the Maryland Higher Education Commission is trying to do just that.

To have a committee spend nine months discussing a proposal totally unacceptable to the African-American community is a waste of time, effort and money. The strategy of the commission is akin to that used by George Bush in nominating Clarence Thomas for a seat on the Supreme Court. In that instance, Thomas' black skin was supposed to make his nomination acceptable, despite his conservative, anti-black record.

In this instance, a black task force named to study the merger is supposed to make a joining of the schools palatable. It will not! In fact, if the panelists insist on recommending consolidation, they may well impugn their collective credibility. On the other hand, if they view their task as a means of promoting cooperation and coordination between the two schools and enhancing the academic programs of both, the community will applaud their labor.

Suggesting the merger of Coppin and Morgan is as outrageous as suggesting that of Harvard and Yale. Morgan, since 1867, and Coppin, since 1900, have struggled to survive and to develop programs that address the needs of their diverse constituencies. Both have graduated legions of movers and shakers who provide leadership and service to local, national and international communities.

Both provided higher education for blacks in Baltimore when no other college would.

Both belong to that cherished company of historically black educational institutions we seek to save, not destroy.

Instead of studying ways to make one school out of the two, why not concentrate on ways to keep both open and effectively operating? Let them hold on to their unique identities and hallowed traditions.

Magdalene B. Fennell is an alumna of Morgan State College, Class of 1951.

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