Richardson Outlines Disparity in HBCU ‘Equality Lawsuit’

by: Deborah Bailey Special to the AFRO
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Week two of the remedial phase of the Maryland Higher Education Desegregation Trial, as the case is popularly known, featured the testimony of Dr. Earl Richardson, former president of Morgan State University and the man credited by many with transforming Maryland’s designated public urban university and the state’s largest HBCU during his almost 30-year tenure as president.

hbculawsuitWhile the remedial or “remedy” portion of The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, et al. v. Maryland Higher Education Commission et.al. has thus far focused on how to create unique and unduplicated, high demand academic programs at Maryland’s HBCU’s, Richardson warned that academic programs must be considered in the larger context of the fiscal support needed to properly support and maintain the programs.

Disparate Investment – Disproportional Growth – HBCU’s and PWI’s

Richardson was quick to inform the court that while Morgan’s transformation under his tenure from 1984-2010 did include the development of new academic programs and facilities, the growth of the campus and its academic profile during his presidency paled in comparison to the evolution of the state’s predominately White institutions during the same period.

“Yes, Morgan’s budget expanded [during my tenure] but not proportional to the state’s predominately White institutions (PWI’s)” Richardson said.

“I maintain that the state’s funding formula is flawed,” Richardson said.

Richardson reminded the court that the State of Maryland established The Bohanan Commission with the goal of developing an equitable statewide formula for higher education funding.  The Commission specifically recommended that HBCU’s be made comparable and competitive with other public institutions.  The recommendations in the Bohanan Commission were never acted on by the state, Richardson said.

Additionally, in 2000, Maryland entered into an agreement with the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to come into compliance with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The state failed to meet its obligations under this agreement as well, according to the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“Until you address the disparity in funding and infrastructure, the disparity becomes memorialized and institutionalized,” Richardson said when attorneys asked how creating special academic programmatic niches and designing non-duplicative programs at HBCU’s would assist with desegregation.

Richardson told the court that like many HBCU’s the growth and development of the academic profile at Morgan involves a constant balancing act.

Unique Academic Programs Require Financial Support   

“I used a strategy called selective enhancement at Morgan,” Richardson said explaining to the court the process he often used to start a new academic program without additional fiscal support from the state or an external entity.

“You can move money around to launch the program but it can’t sustain the program,” Richardson said supporting the premise that a re-allocation of academic programs must be partnered with the necessary funding to support new and expanded programs, an issue at the heart of the remedy phase of the trial.  Richardson reiterated that quality academic programs need more than tuition and fees to support continued survival.

Both Juliette Bell, President of University of Maryland Eastern Shore and David Wilson, current president of Morgan State University mentioned their own battles with constantly juggling funds to ensure the survival of their academic programs. Both mentioned that they would have liked to receive more funding support or even feedback from the State.

“One of the problems we have is that these programs start without resources,” Bell said. “We know these programs attract students of all races, but we have to retain these programs,” Bell said.

Maryland’s current Commissioner of Higher Education, James Fielder admitted in testimony before the court last week that he had not met with any of the state’s four HBCU’s to discuss the proposals they submitted to the court to recommend suitable remedies as requested by Judge Blake.

In 2013, Federal District Judge Catherine Blake ruled that Maryland violated the constitutional rights of students at the state’s four Historically Black Institutions (HBIs) by unnecessarily duplicating academic programs at nearby white institutions.  The plaintiffs in The Maryland Higher Education Desegregation Case in collaboration with the state of Maryland were ordered to develop a remedy in mediation.

Judge Blake’s 2013 decision offered a remedy that will include “expansion of mission and program uniqueness and institutional identity at the HBIs.”  The ruling further stated “New programs at the HBIs will require specially trained faculty and may require special facilities and other support to be effective.”

Two years after the ruling in The Maryland Higher Education Desegregation case, the State failed to cooperate in a mediated agreement.   Judge Blake ordered the parties to return to her courtroom in January 2017 for a remedial trial and a court-ordered remedy.

The remedial phase in the Maryland Higher Education Desegregation case is being watched nationally by other states who have previously and/or are currently operating under US Department of Education Civil Rights Division compliance agreements such as Georgia, Ohio and Texas.

The case is expected to conclude in four to six weeks.

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