The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland on Oct. 7, rendered its long awaited decision in the Historical Black College & University (HBCU) Equality Lawsuit. This is the lawsuit initiated by a coalition of HBCU alumna and students (Coalition) to address perceived violations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by the State of Maryland. The Coalition asserts such violations relate to the state’s failure to eliminate various practices that have continuously perpetuated the effects of segregation in the higher education system of Maryland. It was argued that the violations have resulted in depriving students at Maryland’s HBCU institutions educational opportunities comparable to those made available to and received by students at Historically White Institutions (HWI).
The court’s decision represents a mixed bag of results. While two of the issues confronting the court were not decided in favor of the Coalition, the court did find that Maryland has blatantly continued policies and practices of unnecessary program duplication that has created a segregative effect in its higher education system. We believe the court ‘s decision on the program duplication issue to be the most important decision in this case. Indeed, we view this decision on program duplication to be one of the most important civil rights judicial decisions since Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
We applaud the attorneys who committed enormous time and countless resources to develop the arguments that have finally uncovered this state’s blasé attitude towards HBCU students and institutions. For many years, and particularly during the past 10, this state has verbally voiced hollow support for eliminating and preventing future occurrences of program duplication of HBCU courses and curriculum. This lawsuit, however, confirms the emptiness of this state’s ovations by highlighting the multiple instances where time after time, program duplication violations have been repeatedly rendered against HBCU students and institutions, impeding their quests to achieve educational excellence.
The decision has deferred rendering a judgment. Instead, mediation has been recommended for purposes of deriving a remedy consistent with the findings outlined in the decision.
We believe mediation required by the Equality Lawsuit decision should be conducted with a clear view of achieving all the elements required by our HBCUs to make them more comparable and competitive with the state’s HWIs. We also encourage and look forward to such negotiations introducing new, high demand, unique programmatic areas of excellence for each of the HBCUs consistent with those recommended in the decision. To further eliminate the effects of Maryland’s past illegal program duplication practices, we are excited by the decision’s suggestion that the possible transference of high demand programs from TWI’s to HBCUs and prospects for collaborative programs be considered. All of these new programmatic opportunities should assist in making Maryland’s HBCUs nationally recognized diverse institutions of higher learning as opposed to being, as reflected by a witness in the lawsuit, ‘just another Black college.’
Therefore, in spite of its decision, the Equality Lawsuit has not yet arrived at a conclusion. We are nevertheless encouraged that, with this decision on the issue of Maryland’s violation of the HBCU student and institutional rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, we are approaching a new era of opportunities not only for the Maryland HBCUs but for all the other HBCUs in the country who have been closely following the Equality Lawsuit case in hopes of securing the additional protections under law this decision will now reflect.