Catch-up time at Coppin

Stepchild: The state owes substantial reparations to this West Baltimore institution.

October 06, 2001

A TRULY shocking picture of neglect emerges from a recent survey of state aid for Coppin State College.

Among the findings: Six of the college's 10 buildings need major renovations. Three of these are beyond repair and should be demolished. Two of the three would need to be replaced. The school's operating budget stands at half what the study says is needed.

Who is responsible for this deplorable state of affairs?

So many bear responsibility that no one wants to address the question. But answers will be needed because they could have a direct bearing on how - and under whom - corrective measures will be taken.

FOR THE RECORD - An Oct. 6 editorial should have pointed out that Coppin State College was part of the state system under former chancellor John S. Toll for only one year.
The Sun regrets the error.

A state-appointed study group, ordered into existence by the federal Office of Civil Rights, finds that Coppin needs $300 million over the next 10 years to make up for two decades of neglect.

Coppin deteriorated even as other historically black schools in Maryland - Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore - were prospering. Both of the latter seem to get more savvy leadership in what one bureaucrat called "the necessary whinin' and the cryin'."

An unstated consensus among those who have followed the progress of all three schools is that Coppin needs new leadership. Everyone likes the courtly president, Calvin W. Burnett, but many wonder if he's up to the task of managing a huge infusion of development. He's been in charge for 31 years. Not much has happened to reverse Coppin's decline during that time.

Not all of the blame for Coppin's condition can be laid at President Burnett's feet, of course. The report on Coppin was done by a panel headed by John S. Toll, now president of Washington College. The school's decline occurred during years in which Mr. Toll was head of the university system.

"You only have to walk around the campus to see signs of neglect," he said when his report was issued. One wonders why officials with the power to make change didn't take that walk with open eyes.

The Board of Regents must now examine its own role in Coppin's decline - and find motivation in that to put things right.

Coppin is either in the system or it isn't.

Mr. Toll's committee concluded that Coppin continues to perform a critically important function: "serving the underserved," it says.

Though its graduates fill the ranks of teachers, nurses, police officers and other important jobs, Coppin itself has been woefully underserved by the state. Here's an example: Coppin has gotten construction funding from the state at a rate of $699 per student, while Towson University, ranking just above it in the system, received $5,015 per student.

"We've been taking two peas and making a whole pot of soup," Mr. Burnett says. "But what could we do with a whole can of peas?"

Half a can would be a vast improvement at this point. Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the regents must digest the Toll report quickly and come up with a plan that allows Coppin to make truly nourishing soup.

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