Temporary peace for UMBC and Morgan

Civil rights inquiry played role in decision to drop degree request

September 16, 2000|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

The decision by administrators at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County to withdraw their request for a major in electrical engineering brings to a close, at least for now, an at times bitter struggle between UMBC and Morgan State University.

UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III was apparently ready to fight to get the undergraduate program for his campus, but state officials convinced him in the past few weeks that he would not win. The request was withdrawn before the Maryland Higher Education Commission could consider it at a meeting this month.

"It is clear that UMBC's proposed bachelor of science program in electrical engineering would not be approved in the current environment," the UMBC administration said in a statement released this week. "We know this is a disappointment to the university's faculty and students as well as top business leaders."

Hrabowski has long wanted an electrical engineering major - UMBC offers graduate programs in the subject - and saw his opportunity when the state passed legislation last year making it easier for schools to start new programs.

But Morgan State President Earl S. Richardson objected, saying the major would violate the monopoly on electrical engineering in the Baltimore area his school was granted when its engineering school opened in 1986.

Richardson was backed by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, which is assessing desegregation in Maryland's public colleges and universities.

Federal officials say that historically black schools like Morgan State need exclusive programs to compete with other schools and become more diverse.

State officials hope to sign an agreement with the civil rights office by the end of this month. The end of the UMBC-Morgan State electrical engineering fight makes that more likely.

"Clearly, the opposition of Morgan State and the Office of Civil Rights played a pivotal role here," Hrabowski said.

Richardson would say only "no comment" to all questions about UMBC's decision.

Maryland Higher Education Commission officials said it was not the desegregation or exclusivity issues that doomed UMBC's request but the overabundance of electrical engineering in the state.

"Between state and private schools, there are five electrical engineering programs in Maryland," said Jeff Welch, MHEC spokesman. "They are not at capacity. It would be inappropriate for the commission to agree to another electrical engineering major when there is already plenty of opportunity for students at these other institutions."

He said state figures show that electrical engineering enrollment is declining while enrollment in computer science and similar fields is on the rise.

But Hrabowski contends that there is no public college offering electrical engineering to high-achieving students in the Baltimore area because Morgan State enrolls students with lower SAT scores and high school rankings than UMBC.

"Our two campuses serve different populations," he said.

Hrabowski said that many area business leaders backed his proposed major because they need these graduates.

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