Morgan State pushes course exclusivity

University objects to similar programs at other area schools

Notes duplication policy

Officials defer approval of doctoral curriculum at Towson and UB

May 04, 2000|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

Morgan State University has persuaded state officials to defer approval of new doctoral programs at other Baltimore-area public universities, prompting criticism that the university is using its status as a historically black institution to dampen competition from other schools.

This year, with approval from the Maryland Higher Education Commission, officials at Towson University and the University of Baltimore announced those two schools' first doctoral programs. After Morgan objected, the approvals were held.

Morgan officials say they are honoring a long-standing state policy against duplication of courses.

But critics say Morgan's tactics are preventing other schools from adapting to a new educational landscape in which Maryland students face a range of choices for higher education -- including for-profit institutions such as the University of Phoenix and online programs from universities around the country.

Complicating the issue is the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, which is conducting a long-delayed assessment of the integration of the state's higher education system -- required because Maryland was once a legally segregated state.

Office of Civil Rights officials have backed Morgan's objections in part because of a 1992 Supreme Court decision in a Mississippi case, known as Fordice, that says historically black institutions must not suffer undue damage when formerly segregated systems are integrated.

But Morgan critics say Fordice was aimed at historically black schools that are being integrated into state systems, not those, like Morgan, remaining almost completely black.

"Morgan has effectively, because of what I would say is a total misinterpretation of the Fordice decision, been able to say `No' to many programs" at other schools, says Jack Fruchtman, a political scientist who chairs the faculty senate at Towson University.

Morgan State President Earl S. Richardson says his objections, and the MHEC decisions, are an affirmation of the policy to keep the state's colleges and universities from wasting money by offering similar programs.

"The issue is not race at all," he says. "It is one of unnecessary duplication and the extent to which that is not good public policy, as well as the extent to which it is in compliance with the law."

However, many in the state system contend that Morgan and civil rights officials are hindering other institutions that have made greater attempts to diversify than Morgan. According to 1998 state statistics, Morgan had 363 nonblack students -- 103 whites -- among its 6,114 undergraduates.

"Some [historically black institutions] are grappling with their new role successfully and some aren't," says Donald L. Langenberg, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, which includes Towson University and the University of Baltimore but not Morgan.

Richardson says if Morgan is to become a more diverse institution, it needs exclusivity in programs. He says when it had that in the late 1960s and early 1970s as the only urban university in the Baltimore area, Morgan saw a rise in its nonblack population as whites made up almost half of its 1,000 graduate students.

But, Richardson says, competition from University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the expansion of the University of Baltimore as a public institution, and the growth of Towson State College into Towson University drained white students from Morgan.

Richardson says if Morgan were given exclusivity today, it would show a similar growth in diversity. "If you build it, they will come," he says, implying that some other colleges oppose Morgan's plans because they fear losing their talented black students to Morgan.

Wendella P. Fox, director of the Philadelphia office of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, agrees: "One of the ways any state, particularly Maryland, can shoulder its responsibility under Fordice is by making sure all of its institutions have all of the tools and all of the support needed to attract a diverse population.

"If you cut the legs off by having the same programs unnecessarily duplicated, that cuts into the face of [desegregation] efforts," she says.

Many in the state's higher education community contend that Morgan's objections are based on an outdated model of higher education before for-profit operations such as the University of Phoenix and out-of-state schools with online courses changed the landscape.

"Higher education is a very competitive industry," says Langenberg. "There is a real demand there for the courses Towson and the University of Baltimore are proposing. This is going to be an ongoing issue as we move into this new age and try to compete in that industry."

Says Dan Jones, acting provost at Towson: "At the time the Fordice ruling came out, it might have been necessary to deal with the issue of desegregation. But education is infinitely transportable now. It's no longer a solution, it's an impediment."

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