In Maryland, we occasionally pat ourselves on the back filled with a sense of pride that we are not at all like “them.”  “Them” meaning traditional southern states and all the bizarre fixings served up alongside southern charm.  

Here, it seems in some contexts we in Maryland don’t spew overt racism, instead systems and agents promote, craft, and enact policies and practices that perpetuate segregation.  Such may be the case with two legislative bills currently advancing in the 2016 Maryland General Assembly Session—Senate Bill 1052 and House Bill 1607.

At first glance the bills titled, University of Maryland Strategic Partnership Act of 2016, present a glowing future for a merger of certain higher education institutions under a University of Maryland banner.  However, it almost willfully ignores the detrimental impact on Historically Black Institutions, like Morgan State University and Coppin State University, in light of still unresolved 2006 lawsuit brought against the state of Maryland alleging the state operated segregated higher education institutions.

The Court found that the state of Maryland in its higher education policies has never truly abandoned segregation practices that landmark cases like Brown v. Board of Education and United States v. Fordice sought to resolve.

The opinion memo from the case, The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, et al. v. Maryland Higher Education Commission, determined two things specifically: first, that Maryland state nurtures racial discrimination in a higher education context; and second, that the State preserves or prolongs segregated conditions in its universities “by and through its continuous policies and practices” regarding academic programs and the unnecessary duplication of academic programs at Traditionally White Institutions (TWI) where those programs first originated at the Historically Black Institutions.

This kind of activity is what’s known as “de jure segregation.”  De jure segregation means exclusion or separation that result or is intentionally accomplished from the laws or actions of the state.

More than five higher-ed institutions, and notably most if-not-all are Traditional White Institutions, will “partner” under the proposed 2016 bills.  The partnership, a merger of sorts of these already well-funded schools, looks quite similar to a remediation proposal presented by the aforementioned Coalition to the State of Maryland in response to the Court’s request for a remedy to the lawsuit.

The Coalition proposed the merging of Morgan State with the University of Baltimore, and it was shot down vehemently as unsound, difficult, and costly.  Yet, the 2016 bills present a similar merger that moves an entire University of Maryland administrative center all the way from College Park into Baltimore city (a distance of over 30 miles) , home to Coppin State University and in Morgan State’s backyard.  It would now appear that the Coalition—made up of students, faculty, alumni, and supporters of Maryland’s four HBIs—was not extreme in its remedy proposal as denounced by the Baltimore Sun and others.

Looking on, should this partnership see the light-of-day, we are forced to contemplate the nagging question of what would happen to the General Assembly’s 1998 statutory designation that Morgan State University is Maryland’s “Public Urban University;” and all the yet to be manifested resources and funding and support that would allow it to achieve the intended status.

More importantly, since the State of Maryland was found to have committed constitutional and civil rights violation in its higher education policies and practices it would appear that there has been little evaluation by the Baltimore delegation and Maryland legislators of the proposed University of Maryland Strategic Partnership Act of 2016’s impact in covertly perpetuating harm to Historically Black Institutions of higher education. Do lawmakers believe their constituents are too simple to understand what is occurring?

There’s more to be said on these very troubling pieces of legislation, what lawmakers believe or understand, and how Maryland compares to other states where systematic segregation is either being overcome or ignored.  Stay tuned in the days and weeks ahead to learn more about what is occurring behind the scenes, and what role you can play in ensuring Maryland legislators and the State of Maryland are held accountable in guaranteeing equity in higher education.