Effort to desegregate colleges called lax


An advocacy group with ties to Morgan State University believes the state has failed to desegregate its colleges and universities, and has asked to weigh in on a pending federal government decision about whether to certify Maryland's system of higher education as free of the vestiges of racial discrimination.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights in Philadelphia is evaluating progress made by the state during a five-year desegregation partnership that ended in December.

"In our preliminary opinion, Maryland has not fully complied with all of the ... commitments that it made in the Agreement," wrote the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education in a July 10 letter to the civil rights office.

The letter was a response to the Maryland Higher Education Commission's report to federal authorities last month that it had made a good faith effort to enhance the state's historically black institutions and had successfully eliminated all "vestiges of a dual higher education system that once existed" in Maryland.

Commission members said Maryland spent hundreds of millions of dollars between 2001 to 2006 on the state's four historically black campuses, including $56.4 million in grants and "enhancements" during a time of declining state revenue.

The advocacy group disagrees with the extent of progress. Its president, David Burton, said he would not rule out legal action if the federal government declined to extend its involvement with Maryland's colleges and universities.

"But, at this point, we are simply requesting the right to respond," said Burton, a 1967 Morgan graduate, and the founder of the National Minority Manufacturing Institute, an association of minority-owned businesses.

The coalition's letterhead is lined with alumni of Morgan State, the historically black school in Northeast Baltimore that has enjoyed a surge of funding as a result of the federal oversight.

Morgan State University spokesman Clinton Coleman said the university was "not at all" involved in the coalition's formation this past spring, but added that he believed Morgan State President Earl R. Richardson agreed with the letter's opinion.

The vice chairwoman of the coalition, Marsha Evans Holmes, sits on the Morgan State University Foundation's executive committee. Also among the coalition's members is Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, president of the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and Nolan V. Rollins, an official with the Greater Baltimore Urban League.

The letter informs the federal civil rights office that the coalition has sought legal assistance from the national NAACP's Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, a civil liberties group. John Brittain, chief counsel for the Lawyers' Committee, said his organization expects to "officially assist" the coalition in evaluating the results of the state-federal desegregation partnership.

"While we don't know the details of the Maryland situation yet, we do know around the country that historically black colleges and universities are unequal in funding," Brittain said.gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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