Ruling expected on college makeup

U.S. may require Md. black institutions to have more whites

June 22, 2000|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

State education officials may learn today whether federal civil rights investigators will demand changes in Maryland's higher education system that might call for large increases in white enrollment at historically black institutions.

Although a final report is not expected until fall, representatives of the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights are expected to give their preliminary findings in Annapolis today.

"We want to maintain the nurturing aspects of the historically black schools," said Patricia S. Florestano, the state's secretary of higher education. "At the same time, the Office of Civil Rights is saying to us that we cannot maintain exclusively black enclaves."

Officials from the U.S. education department's Office of Civil Rights have been in Maryland since last year conducting an assessment of the desegregation of the state's colleges and universities. As a system that was once legally segregated, Maryland must be certified as in compliance with civil rights laws.

"I find it difficult to understand what their goal is," said Del. Nancy K. Kopp, a Democrat from Montgomery County who is active on education issues. "Whatever it is, it can make a big difference in all the state's institutions - historically black and traditionally white - particularly at Morgan State."

But Morgan State President Earl S. Richardson, who has found allies in civil rights officials in objecting to competing programs at other Baltimore-area schools, said he is not expecting the Office of Civil Rights to demand a drastic change in the racial makeup of the student body at his school.

"That's a bad rap for the Office of Civil Rights," he said. "What they are trying to ensure is equal educational opportunity for all. When we are in a society where whites are 2 1/2 times more likely to have a baccalaureate degree than blacks, you have got to insist on that."

Maryland's four traditionally black colleges are all public, though Morgan is not part of the university system of Maryland.

In other states, federal officials have looked at the racial make-up of historically black schools as evidence of lingering segregation. Usually, their solution has been to call for increased funding and more popular programs so those schools can attract a more diverse group of students.

But Maryland officials say they have already increased support for historically black schools and that any segregation that remains - in 1999, the most recent statistics, about 100 of Morgan State's 6,100 students were white with another 250 non-African American students of other races - is not because of unequal funding.

"We have been putting a lot of money into Morgan," Kopp said. "Our goal has been one that we shared with the Morgan leadership, of raising the profile of the program, not focusing so much on the number of whites that go there."

Said Florestano: "I want to be sure that when the Office of Civil Rights looks at the state, they look at the full picture. I hope they look at the last 10 years of operating funding, the last 10 years of capital funding ... not just the issue of programs offered."

Richardson agrees that the state has been generous but says Morgan needs increased funding to reach equality with historically white institutions.

His focus in recent months has been on protesting when area schools propose degrees that might compete with Morgan State's course offerings.

With the backing of the Office of Civil Rights, Richardson objected to doctorates at Towson University and the University of Baltimore. The Maryland Higher Education Commission has asked that those schools and Morgan come up with joint programs.

Richardson has also stopped the University of Maryland, Baltimore County from offering an undergraduate major in electrical engineering, though it offers graduate degrees in that subject.

"How long do they get exclusivity?" UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski asked at a meeting between college presidents and the civil rights officials last month. "They have had that in engineering for 10 years, and they are still only 1 percent white."

"The strategy has not worked," Hrabowski said in a recent interview. "It is preventing us from having electrical engineering but has not resulted in white students going to the other institution."

Hrabowski said that more than 20 percent of engineering students at UMBC are black.

"We are doing a stellar job, but unfortunately we are not being allowed to do all we could do for the state and its economy," he said. "Corporations in this state are constantly asking for more electrical engineers."

Richardson refused to respond directly to Hrabowski's contentions but said Morgan State's graduate programs attracted a large percentage of white students in the early 1970s before competition increased from other Baltimore-area schools. He said that will happen again if it is allowed to develop exclusive programs.

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