Panel urges aid for Coppin

Md. commission says $300 million needed during next decade

For building, renovations

September 27, 2001|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Coppin State College needs a major infusion of construction and operating funds to recover from years of neglect, a state-appointed panel said yesterday.

To catch up with its peers in Maryland, the college in West Baltimore needs $300 million for building and renovation during the next decade, and its operating budget should be doubled, according to a report submitted to the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

So run-down is the Coppin campus that six of its 10 buildings require significant renovations, while three others should be razed, and two of those three replaced, said a study team established in March as part of an agreement between Maryland and the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

John S. Toll, president of Washington College in Chestertown, headed the eight-member panel that toured the Coppin campus on West North Avenue, examined its records, interviewed staff and held public hearings.

"Coppin desperately needs improvement in facilities," said Toll. "You only have to walk around the campus to see signs of neglect, cracked walls, leaky roofs, outdated laboratory equipment. In the last 11 years, they've had very little construction, and only four buildings are wired for computers."

The report says that during the 1990s, Coppin received capital -- or construction -- funds at the rate of $699 per student. Towson University, which received the second-lowest amount, got $5,015 per student, while the average for the rest of the public four-year schools was $16,144.

"In effect," Toll said, "the next 10 years at Coppin must make up for 20 years at other campuses."

Operating funds increased during the 1990s, but not at the same pace as other Maryland four-year schools. Sometimes, funds were cut. For example, the report says, when the school's departments of biology, physics and chemistry combined in 1981, the new department's annual operating budget (excluding salaries) was $48,000. Today, it's $8,000.

Coppin's longtime president, Calvin W. Burnett, welcomed the report as "possibly the best thing that's happened to this institution in its 101-year history. We've been pointing out these deficiencies for years, but nobody has been listening. Now we're affirmed by a group of people, none of whom are Coppin insiders."

Burnett said -- and the report confirms -- that Coppin has been doing the best it can with the resources available. "We've been taking two peas and making a whole pot of soup," said Burnett. "But what could we do with a whole can of peas?"

Whether Coppin will get everything recommended by the study is unclear. The agreement with the OCR includes no mandates except that a Coppin study be done, said Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, of which Coppin is a part.

But Langenberg and Toll, a former system chancellor, said that work has begun on a 10-year redevelopment plan for Coppin, and that about $10 million in multi-year planning and construction grants are included in the system's 2003 budget request to Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

An $18 million science and technology center is planned for 2005, as are new auditorium and administration buildings later in the decade. The college also has purchased land for a new Institute for Urban Education, which would play a role in Coppin's adoption of a nearby city elementary school.

School faces `big challenge'

"I'm optimistic that there's a good chance our recommendations will be approved," said Toll, "but I can't be certain. Making up for a decade is a big challenge."

Michael Morrill, a spokesman for Glendening, said the governor has not seen the report and could not comment. Morrill noted that during Glendening's seven years in office, the governor has increased spending on higher education by 60 percent.

The Toll team report is unusual for its blunt language, though it stops short of accusing the state of racial discrimination. Coppin, it says, "needs not only substantially more capital, but also an infusion of operating funds to recover from a century of constraints."

Coppin has specialized in "serving the underserved," the report says, many of whom graduate to work in Baltimore as teachers, nurses, police, social workers and correctional officers.

`On an equal footing'

Karen R. Johnson, state secretary of higher education, said, "This is a matter of equal opportunity. Coppin students need to be on an equal footing with their peers ... in Maryland."

Burnett declined to attribute the condition of his campus to racial discrimination. "I don't want to use the word `discrimination,'" he said. "I prefer the word `ignored.' I wish people would get past race and look at geographical location and the people we serve."

Coppin is one of four historically black colleges and universities in Maryland, but the only one to be singled out in the OCR agreement for an investigation. "I think that's because OCR had a good idea of the conditions there," said Toll.

Burnett, 69, is in his 31st year as Coppin president. "I'd like to be around long enough to see some of this through, though I won't be able to see it all through," he said.

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