Unfortunate competition

March 30, 2007

In trying to resolve a dispute between Towson University and Morgan State University over possibly competing graduate business programs, the General Assembly could make a bad situation infinitely worse. The state Senate has passed a bill that could pull the rug out from under Towson's program and send future such disputes to court. Fortunately, the House of Delegates is taking a more careful and rational look.

This fight goes back to 2005, when Towson moved to join with the University of Baltimore to offer a master's in business administration, at least in part to have public universities take greater advantage of projected growth in MBA demand, because they were only attracting about one-fifth of candidates in the area. A complicating factor, however, was the existence of an MBA program at nearby Morgan, a historically black university, and a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that tries to promote desegregation in higher education by limiting programs at white public universities that duplicate programs offered by predominantly black institutions, unless there are good educational reasons.

In November 2005, Maryland's Higher Education Commission decided in Towson's favor, in part because Morgan's MBA program had been in decline during the previous decade. When the General Assembly tried to reverse that decision last year, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. vetoed the measure, but the state gave Morgan more than $800,000 to help beef up its MBA program. Enrollment in the program has stabilized, but Morgan and its legislative supporters have not been satisfied.

During the current session, the Senate has passed a bill that challenges MHEC's decision as a violation of the 1992 Supreme Court ruling. That could lead to the elimination of Towson's program, which has about 30 enrollees. The bill would also allow one university to take another to court, a particularly bad precedent. Individuals and groups that disagree with MHEC decisions can seek judicial review, but the idea of public institutions using tax dollars to sue each other is senseless.

Some House members favor the more reasonable approach of letting MHEC's original decision stand and subjecting similar disputes to arbitration. That's the position that should prevail.

In the meantime, there are enough undergraduate and graduate business majors to go around. Morgan and Towson should sit down together and find a way for their programs to collaborate and co-exist.

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