Maryland officials recently filed notice of their intent to appeal the decision of federal court judge Catherine Blake in the Historically Black University Coalition case against the State. The State’s appeal follows the strategy used in similar lawsuits brought in Alabama, Mississippi and other southern states seeking to maintain dual systems of higher education.
Judge Blake found in October 2013 that Maryland continues to promote the practice of unnecessary program duplication between the HBIs and PWIs in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
After attempts at a settlement and weeks of court trial, the Court ordered the State to discontinue the unlawful practice of offering similar programs at HBIs and nearby PWIs. Instead, the judge directed Maryland to develop clusters of unduplicated, high demand programs at each of the HBIs to give HBIs distinct programmatic identities and to provide additional funding for enhancement of academic support services, marketing and recruitment activities.
The Blake decision holds great potential for increasing the attractiveness of HBIs for students regardless of race. But contrary to Coalition arguments for a realignment of programs, the ruling would leave in place existing program duplication such as engineering at Morgan and UMBC, and business between UMES and Salisbury University on the eastern shore.
The appeal by Governor Larry Hogan, Attorney General Brian Frosh and the legislative leadership appears to be a desperate effort to maintain the most distinguishing feature of a dual and segregated system of higher education: unnecessary program duplication between neighboring HBIs and PWIs. Maryland deserves better from our elected officials and rest assured, the Coalition is committed to continuing its challenge in the Court.
Equally important, we must take our quest for equity and excellence for HBIs to the ballot box and the upcoming election provides the ideal opportunity. Using the same formula that flipped the legislature in Virginia and elected Doug Jones in Alabama. African Americans and other minorities make-up almost half of the population of Maryland.
We must now mobilize our students at HBIs, church congregations, Black Greek-letter fraternities and sororities, minority business people, neighborhood associations and other civil rights advocacy groups to ensure that our elected officials deliver on the agreement the State made in 2000 to make HBIs as competitive as Traditionally White campuses in attracting students regardless of race.
David Burton is President of the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, plaintiffs in the HBCU Equity Lawsuit.