Morgan State cries poor

Md. lawmakers disagree

University's president says support falls short of majority-white schools

Morgan draws heavy capital support from state

August 04, 2002|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

When hundreds of Morgan State University students descended on Annapolis this spring to protest a delay in state funding for a new library, the rally inspired comparisons to the 1960s, when students marched on state capitols to demand fairness for black colleges.

But those comparisons obscured a crucial fact: Morgan State has, in the past dozen years, been highly successful in winning state funds for building projects, according to a new survey of state spending.

The university has been so successful in drawing state support that some state officials say Morgan State might soon reach the point where it will no longer need such a high level of capital funding.

Also, a debate is emerging among the state's African-American leaders over whether Morgan State can claim - as it did in the library dispute - that it continues to be shortchanged in comparison with the state's majority-white campuses.

"I would not say it has caught up from its history of underfunding, but I would say it has been treated fairly in my tenure in the assembly," said Del. Salima S. Marriott, a Morgan State graduate who taught at the university for 24 years and has represented Northeast Baltimore since 1991.

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was more critical of Morgan State's claims.

"It's part of the victim mentality that's prevalent in the mindset of so many people today," said Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and Morgan State alumnus.

Morgan State President Earl S. Richardson denies that the university's claims of unfair treatment are unjustified, saying the campus still lags far behind the state's leading public campuses.

"Though things seem to be going well here, because the neglect was so long, the urgency of the need is still compelling," said Richardson, now in his 18th year as president.

A survey by the Department of Legislative Services at the close of this year's General Assembly session shows that Morgan has received $185 million in state capital funding since 1989. This places it in a virtual tie for third among the state's 13 public campuses, behind the College Park flagship and the University of Maryland, Baltimore, which includes such professional institutions as the state's medical and law schools.

The tally puts Morgan State, with an enrollment of slightly more than 6,000 students, almost equal with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, with 10,000 students, and well ahead of Towson University, with about 14,000 students.

And it sets the campus in a class apart from Baltimore's other historically black campus, Coppin State College, which, with about 3,000 students, has received $19 million in capital funds since 1989.

Morgan State administrators, lawmakers and state higher education officials agree that the high level of funding has been needed to rebuild a campus that was neglected for most of the 1980s. The money has paid for, among other things, an engineering complex, dormitories and an arts center.

Still, lawmakers and educators say the time might soon come when Morgan State will have mostly made up for past neglect and policy-makers will have to decide whether it still needs extra state attention.

"It's a question of public policy, of asking, `What is the ultimate goal for Morgan?'" said Hoke L. Smith, former president of Towson University. "Do you want to make it into the leading African-American institution in the country? If not, then maybe they're getting close to a resting point - not a finishing point, but a resting point."

The question has increasing relevance now, with the state facing budget constraints and with other campuses - notably Coppin State and Towson - saying that they need the kind of concerted support Morgan received for the past decade.

Complicating the debate are shifting personal dynamics. The library funding dispute exposed the growing tension between Richardson and Rawlings. And next winter, Morgan State will lose one of its strongest allies when Senate Majority Leader Clarence W. Blount retires. Blount, like Rawlings, has a campus building named for him.

Everyone agrees that Morgan State has come a long way in 20 years. A former seminary that moved to its Northeast Baltimore location in 1917, the university has long enjoyed nationwide recognition and is the only one of the state's historically black colleges to draw large numbers of students from out of state.

By the 1980s, it was struggling with a divided board, accounting troubles and an enrollment that had plummeted to 3,300 students from a high of 6,300 in 1972. With the school shrinking, lawmakers saw little reason to increase its funding.

That changed in the late 1980s, when then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, then-Sen. Francis X. Kelly and Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman visited the campus and were so alarmed by what they saw that they resolved to rescue the college.

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