Maryland universities unnecessarily duplicated the programs of black colleges, court rules

Transfer or merger of high demand programs at traditionally white institutions is likely, judge says

  • Students cross Cold Spring Ave. using the pedestrian bridge on the campus of Morgan State University. Holmes Hall is in the background.
Students cross Cold Spring Ave. using the pedestrian bridge… (Kim Hairston / Baltimore…)
October 08, 2013|By Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun

A federal judge ruled Monday that Maryland hasn't done enough to help the state's four historically black colleges and universities overcome segregation-era policies that required separate programs for white and black students.

In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake found that state universities have continued to unnecessarily duplicate the programs of the four historically black institutions, violating the constitutional rights of those students. Plaintiffs had argued that the historically black colleges were hurt because neighboring institutions offered similar programs, siphoning away students.

But Blake also found that the state's funding of historically black universities did not violate the rights of students — throwing out a longstanding complaint by the HBCUs.

"The State has never dismantled the ... duplication of programs that facilitated segregation — and it has maintained policies and practices that have even exacerbated this problem," Blake wrote.

The court found that a lack of unique academic programs that are in high demand has hurt recruitment at these historically black colleges and universities. The black institutions have 11 such programs compared with 122 at traditionally white institutions.

While Blake did not offer a specific remedy, she wrote that a likely outcome would be "expansion of mission and program uniqueness and institutional identity" at historically black institutions. In addition, she wrote that "the transfer or merger of select high demand programs" from traditionally white institutions to historically black ones would likely be needed.

She urged the parties to enter into mediation.

In a statement, Samantha Kappalman, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O'Malley, said the administration was pleased that the court "recognized our commitment" to correct a historical imbalance in funding the HBCUs.

But, she said, "We respectfully disagree with the court's conclusions regarding duplication. We are continuing to review today's decision and are considering all of our options, including resolving the lone remaining issue through constructive mediation."

Some university leaders reached Monday night said they were still reviewing the ruling and its implications. Morgan State University President David Wilson said he needed time to digest the decision but said that schools like Morgan were "important for the state's competitiveness."

"It is very important for the state of Maryland to have a strong and vibrant and competitive Morgan State University," he said.

Plaintiffs in the case, which was filed in 2006 and went to trial after previous attempts at mediation failed, are students and alumni at Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State and University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

Michael D. Jones, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a statement that they looked forward to determining which programs could be "transferred" to HBCUs.

Another attorney for the plaintiffs, Jon Greenbaum, said they "hope that Maryland will finally do the right thing and get serious about providing an adequate remedy that will enable [historically black institutions] to prosper."

Blake wrote in her ruling that the state "offered no evidence that it has made any serious effort to address continuing historic duplication." She called the state's failure to prevent additional duplication "even more troubling."

After hearing closing arguments last year, the judge noted the duplication issue was especially serious in Baltimore and suggested it was easy to trace it back to segregation.

Morgan State's master's in business administration degree and Bowie State's master's in computer science degree were cited as examples of popular programs that were undermined by competing programs at traditionally white institutions.

A joint master's program in business administration at the University of Baltimore and Towson University was created in 2005 over the objections of Morgan State.

William E. Kirwan, the chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said he would do what he could to "get these issues behind us" but said that often, the same programs should be offered at different universities because they are in demand.

"In my own opinion, I think the system has been very supportive of creating unique programs at the HBCUs whenever possible and has been very careful to avoid program duplication," Kirwan said. "There are obviously some programs that are in high demand in the economy. In such instances there is some duplication, but that is in the best interest of the state's economy."

The University System of Maryland is not a party to the lawsuit. Kirwan said that while state officials would take the lead on making any decisions to resolve the disputes, he would try to help out in that process.

The plaintiffs had argued that the state needed to do much more to make up for decades of underfunding the historically black universities, and that the colleges also needed more money because they must provide access and opportunities for low-income families. The court found the state's current funding is adequate.

The plaintiffs argued that Maryland didn't meet its obligations under United States v. Fordice, a 1992 case in which the Supreme Court ordered states to eliminate all practices and policies that trace back to the segregation era and continue to foster inequalities.

cwells@baltsun.com

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