My dear esteemed Maryland HBI presidents Neufville, Wilson, Burnim and Bell; I speak to you as an oppressed nationality, a 44-year supporter and activist of civil and human rights, and an historically black institution (HBI) faculty member. As you know, Judge Catherine Blake still found vestiges of segregative practices in the Maryland higher education system on Oct. 7, 2013. Blake provided general remedies for addressing them. More exactly, she directed the plaintiffs and defendants to negotiate remedies that included "expansion of mission and program uniqueness and institutional identity at the HBIs.” Blake further said that “it is also likely that the transfer or merger of select high demand programs from traditionally white institutions (TWI) to HBIs will be necessary.” The ruling’s aim is to bring about comparability and competiveness between TWIs and HBIs. Negotiations are now under way.
Various news articles summarized your sentiments just after Judge Blake’s ruling. The Baltimore Sun said that your comments were “cautiously optimistic.” The Diverse Issues in Higher Education headlines read “HBCU Presidents Tread Lightly After Maryland Lawsuit Decision.” Since that time we have heard little from you. If my university, Coppin, is an indication of your enthusiasm and action towards identifying duplicative programs and supplying needed information to adhere to Judge Blake’s ruling, there exists lethargic motion. It makes it appear that you are going along with the State’s sentiments , tactics and arguments . David Burton, president of the Coalition for Equity and Excellence coined a phrase, “carry the water of the status quo.” I find this phrase applicable to those of you ,who testified at the hearing and your public statements. He did not aim it at you, but rather at a naysayer commenting on the relevance of the partial victory of the Coalition’s lawsuit.
All signs indicate that the State is still positing the wrongness of Judge Blake’s decision and will continue its posture in the judge’s ordered negotiations. In quoting Diverse Issues in Higher Education, this is what William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland said shortly after Blake’s ruling. “In my own opinion, I think the system has been very supportive of creating unique programs at the HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] whenever possible and has been very careful to avoid program duplication. There are obviously some programs that are in high demand in the economy.”
A. Dwight Pettit, former USM Board of Regent member in a recent AFRO commentary titled, “State and Maryland University Officials Echo Scary Sounds of Centuries Past,” documented sentiments and attitudes of the State and its supporters. Petit said, “Statements by state legislators and representatives of the University system of Maryland (USM) in defense of Maryland’s dual system of higher education sound much like the rhetoric of the 1860s.” He named names. I add Gov. O’Malley to Pettit’s list.
The bottom line is the State is negotiating in bad faith. The bills put forth by Del. Aisha Braveboy and Sen. Joan Carter Conway to help address the lawsuit issue will never see the light of day in this legislative session. Key legislators do not support them. Gov. O’Malley does not support them. I implore you to read Petit’s commentary.
You are a tipping point to these negotiations. Insist that the State follow Judge Blake’s instructions. Take a strong stand. You know there is a massive and maximum need for the State to do everything possible to level the playing field for HBIs. Mobilize your schools to do the research required to satisfy Blake’s guidelines.
This is not a time to step lightly or speak softly. Blacks have had to uncompromisingly pursue our civil rights – our human rights since the failure of Radical Reconstruction. Take heart from two selfless Marylanders, Frederick Douglass and Gloria Richardson. Douglass said. “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” This is a struggle. You are central to this struggle. Anoint yourselves with the tenacity and militancy of Gloria Richardson. Join the growing movement of HBI students, faculty, staff and plaintiff supporters.
Dr. Kenneth Morgan is a professor at Coppin State University.