The recent Federal District Court ruling blames the State of Maryland for the difficulty Historically Black Institutions have in competing with Traditionally White Institutions. State officials contend, however, that any difficulties at the HBIs are of the HBIs’ own making and they are proposing to conduct another one of their predetermined studies to prove it. Announcement of the State’s intention came just days after Judge Catherine C. Blake found the unconstitutional practice of unnecessary program duplication to be the compelling reason for problems experienced by the HBIs.
According to the announcement, the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) wishes to retain a consultant to do an assessment of its Historically Black Institutions (HBIs) to determine if changes should be made in “institutional policies, strategic direction, campus leadership, adequacy of full-time faculty and the resources needed for long term success.” The assessment would, in my opinion, have the effect of extending the recent management study at Coppin University to all of the HBIs. That study, you may recall, deflected blame from the State and the University System of Maryland to the management of the Coppin campus. The report made no mention of any failings of the state as the court would later emphasize, and one should not expect the proposed study of HBIs as a group would be any different.
Take for an example, the design of the study. The study is to be primarily an examination of several institutional factors rather than an assessment of the adverse impact of the one issue identified by the Court as unconstitutional. Even if the study was conceived before the Federal District Court ruling, one would think that any design issued after the ruling would have reflected the guidance of the court. Instead, the state completely dismisses the court.
The study announcement also asserts that “the review should be a look forward and not a look backward.” To ignore the past would be a horrible mistake since the law on which the court relied in finding the state liable for the ills of its Black colleges requires consideration of past, present and future actions. It is those past considerations that give perspective and create insight into strategies for addressing disparities at HBIs.
The prescribed qualifications of the person the higher education commission wishes to hire for the study are equally interesting. “The lead consultant should have experience as the author or co-author of educational research reports” and “have experience analyzing and interpreting quantitative and qualitative data.” As a minority voice on the University System of Maryland Board for several years, I know that requirements so narrowly written are highly suspect. It usually means that the consultant has already been identified and the solicitation process is only being used to make it official. In this case the most likely candidates would be persons who have indicated through recent studies or news articles that they either question the ruling of the Court and/or support the State in its claim that any disparities at HBIs are the result of poor leadership.
Some readers may recall that the legislatively appointed Bohanan Commission sought to use similar tactics in the search for consultants for the 2008 HBI study. Luckily the chicanery was so evident that no one indicated an interest in doing the study and the State was forced to agree to a more objective and open process. As a result, the HBI study, like the Federal District Court, faulted the State for the conditions at HBI, and not their campus leadership.
The attempts of the Maryland Higher Education Commission to do yet another study of the Black universities is at best, a distraction and a delay tactic, and at worst, an effort to undermine the ruling of the Federal District Court. The Legislative Black Caucus must denounce these efforts and insist that any future study concentrate on ways to bring the State higher education system into compliance with the law. In short, Judge Black has found the Maryland practice of unnecessary duplication to be unconstitutional and MHEC should take the lead in exploring ways institutional missions and programs should be altered consistent with the Judge’s ruling on the law.
A. Dwight Pettit is a former member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents.
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