As she has each year for the past decade, Maryland State Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Dist. 43) testified before her colleagues in support of a bill to promote equality between the state’s HBCUs, and its traditionally White institutions.

Maryland State Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Dist. 43) (Facebook Photo)

This year, however, Conway’s bill and testimony carry with them the force of a recent court ruling that the state has operated its higher education institutions in a segregated manner, and must provide equal support for each.

“The historically Black institutions have not been funded at the same rate that the traditionally White institutions have,” Conway told members of the State Senate Budget and Taxation Committee in support of SB-252, the 2018 version of legislation first introduced in 2008.  

The bill would ensure that Maryland’s four historically Black institutions receive sufficient funding to be competitive with the state’s other four-year public universities. It comes amid the final stages of a lawsuit brought against the state by alumni from the four institutions; in November, a U.S Federal District Court found that the state of Maryland continues to operate a de jure system of segregation in higher education that has disadvantaged HBCU students. The state has threatened to appeal the decision.

SB-252 seeks to equalize state funding provided to Maryland’s four HBCU’s with the level of public support given to traditionally White institutions. Currently, public funding to colleges and universities in Maryland is discretionary.   

Maryland’s four HBCU have been underfunded for decades, Morgan State University President David Wilson said in his testimony before the committee. He was the only HBCU executive to testify on behalf of SB-252.  

“The conclusions have been consistent over the last 70 years,” Wilson told the committee.

Wilson shared a long history of recommendations by federal judges, state and federal commissions for quality, dating from the 1937 Soper Commission to November’s ruling, as evidence of a long-understood resource disparity between the state’s HBCUs and TWIs.  

Talib T.Karim, an adjunct professor at Bowie State University, said that equalizing funding between the state’s historically Black and predominately White institutions may help decrease the atmosphere of racial intolerance that has gripped many area campuses.

Among Karim’s students was Lt. Richard W. Collins, an African-American Bowie State University student who was stabbed to death in a hate crime incident on the University of Maryland College Park campus last May, just days before Collins was scheduled to graduate.    

“We have the opportunity to prevent the kind of tragedy that we saw happen to Lt. Richard Collins,” Karim said. “By bringing not only more students of color to HBCUs but all students and increasing the number of Caucasian students who will flock back to these campuses when they are fully funded, we will do a service to our state.”

Senators had few questions during the testimony. Deborah Powell-Hayman, president of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore National Alumni Association, said she believes the lack of response from several of the committee’s senators represented a missed opportunity.  

“Today, I felt as though the exchange was a bit brief and some might surmise the atmosphere was a little bit dismissive,” Hayman said. “As Senator Conway stated, we’ve been on this pathway for a very long time.”

“We’re struggling, and we need this bill to pass,” Hayman added. The UMES campus receives among the smallest annual funding allocations from the state.

Delegate Nick Mosby and other members of the House of Delegates have submitted a companion bill in that chamber, H.B. 450, according to Tracey Lewis, Mosby’s policy director. Hearings on the bill are scheduled for Feb. 8.

Nathaniel J. McFadden, one of two Legislative Black Caucus members on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, was also one of the few senators to comment during the hearing. McFadden said the time has come for the General Assembly to step up.

“Clearly, now that Judge Blake has ruled, the State is obligated to do the right thing by its historic black colleges and universities,” he said. “But not only that, we need to do this for the entire state. It’s going to be difficult, but we need to fight the fight. This is a matter of principle and doing the right thing.”