College competition: Is more really more?

Yes: More programs will enrich everyone

May 14, 2000|By Jack Fruchtman Jr.

Maryland higher education is passing through a robust period of competition for state dollars, the best students and highly qualified faculty. While this competitiveness is most obvious in new methods of teaching and learning, it has also become a fact of life in the development of new graduate and undergraduate programs.

Towson University, where I teach, has developed several new, exciting programs. While the Maryland Higher Education Commission has approved many of them, it has denied several because of objections by Morgan State University.

Morgan has persuaded the commission to deny undergraduate programs in finance marketing and management at Towson, as well as a master's degree in comparative world history. Even now, it has challenged plans for a doctorate in education because it claims that the program closely parallels one on its campus. Why shouldn't Towson University have a doctoral program in education when it has been training teachers longer than any other college or university in Maryland, and today produces the most teachers in the state?

In addition, MHEC is weighing approval of a doctoral program in business for the University of Baltimore. Morgan has objected to it as an unreasonable duplication of one of its own programs. Each of these programs, it claims, conflict either with what Morgan is now doing, has done in the past, or may do sometime in the future.

Should the Morgan challenge hold up, the educational and economic costs may be incalculable. We need highly trained educational leaders with doctorates to lead our schools, and well-trained business leaders to envision the forces that drive today's and tomorrow's industry. The need is great enough to justify such programs at more than one university.

Among the ammunition Morgan uses to defend its position is an extremely narrow interpretation of a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court case, United States v. Fordice. In Fordice, the court outlined remedies for reversing a pattern of continued segregation at Mississippi's state universities. By duplicating the programs of predominantly white universities at historically black schools, Mississippi had effectively discouraged students from switching over.

If a state had experienced a long history of segregation and was persisting in promoting a dual system, the court said, duplication may (and I emphasize "may") violate the 14th amendment's equal protection clause. But there are several reasons why the Fordice decision is inapt when applied to Maryland.

First, Justice Byron White clearly drafted the decision in broad terms, focusing on several factors, not only program duplication. Moreover, the court's reasoning concerning duplication goes far beyond the interpretation that both Morgan and the Maryland Higher Education Commission have given it. To compare the Maryland university environment to that of Mississippi, especially in a case that actually began in 1975, is preposterous.

For ten years now, Morgan has received a level of state funding that is the envy of many of its sister institutions. Just last month, to celebrate Morgan's great progress, its Board Chairman Dallas R. Evans wrote the following remarks in these pages of the Baltimore Sun: "Morgan now ranks among the leading campuses in the state in the number of specialized accreditations held by its academic programs."

And Towson University, for example, has made tremendous strides in recruiting minority students, faculty and staff, designing retention programs, and helping students, including minorities, graduate on time.

The Fordice case clearly pertains to a particular set of circumstances in Mississippi in the 1970s and 80s. Not one of those circumstances applies to Maryland higher education today.

No one argues the essential point in Fordice: the need to dismantle segregated higher education. In its opinion, the court looked to three areas in determining if segregation had been extinguished: admissions programs, mission statements, and duplicate programs.

The sort of admissions problems the court found in Mississippi, where one statewide policy had perpetuated segregation, do not apply to Maryland, where individual universities control their own admissions policies. As for mission statements, the court found that Mississippi's historically black institutions had been granted limited research and degree programs "geared toward its urban setting." That is clearly not the case here.

Morgan's undergraduate and graduate programs in science, engineering, communications studies, computer and information sciences, biological sciences, psychology and education are all testaments that its programming is far broader than that of an urban university. Moreover, Morgan graduates go on to study for advanced degrees, by its own testimony, at Harvard, Cornell, Stanford, MIT, Johns Hopkins and other prestigious research universities.

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