Representatives of Maryland’s historically Black college and universities recently met with alumni plaintiffs in a decade-old lawsuit challenging inequality in the state’s higher education system (HBCU Equity Lawsuit)—a suit which recently ended with a federal court deciding in favor of some of the plaintiffs’ lawsuit requests.
In separate meetings across the region, administrators and activists considered the path ahead in the wake of the U.S. District Court’s Nov. 8 ruling that the state of Maryland must work to repair the lack of investment in its HBCUs and create new, fully-funded and in-demand programs at each institution.
In Baltimore, Morgan State University President David Wilson met with faculty and staff this week to discuss next steps for the university to comply with Judge Catherine Blake’s final ruling. Blake’s order included the appointment of a “Special Master” or administrator to further develop a plan to eliminate racial disparities between HBCUs and traditionally White institutions, in collaboration with all parties to the lawsuit.
“We are examining absolutely cutting-edge urban universities and looking at how they have positioned themselves for the future,” Wilson said. “If the case is not appealed, we stand ready to work with the special master to identify unique high-demand programs.”
Across town at Bowie State University, David Burton, lead plaintiff for the Maryland HBCU Coalition, Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, former president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP, and 40 other representatives from the state’s four HBCUs gathered to strategize how they would hold the state leaders and Maryland’s General Assembly accountable for enacting the court’s mandates.
Brenda Shum, an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and a lead attorney for the Maryland HBCU Coalition, said now is the time for HBCU students, faculty and staff and supporters across the state to get involved and ensure the decision is upheld and supported.
“The remedial order is a new opportunity for us to revitalize our current students, alumni and every stakeholder and demand accountability,” Shum said.
Darren Swain, a former Maryland State Delegate from Prince George’s County, said that the Legislative Black Caucus must now move beyond talk and advance concrete legislation that will support the court’s decision.
“We have to be extremely careful and vigilant in making sure the Black Caucus gets involved. We’ve got to follow the money—don’t follow the rhetoric,” Swain said, after several attendees noted Black Caucus members continued to support legislation that potentially disempowers HBCUs
Cheatham went further, calling out the state’s Black legislators, none of whom were present despite being invited.
“We have some responsibility and some blame to accept. None of our legislators are here,” Cheatham said, adding that the state NAACP would issue a report card on each lawmaker before the 2018 elections, including a grade on their efforts to advance tangible legislation supporting HBCUs. He also called for the group to demand accountability from the five Maryland Higher Education Commission board members seeking re-appointment next year.
Robert Johnson, chair of Mathematics and Computer Science at University of Maryland Eastern Shore, was adamant that the group should also demand HBCU presidents more assertively defend their universities.
“We need to consider our college presidents’ reluctance to get involved and fight both tooth and nail,” he said. “This is something I don’t think we can ignore one additional minute.”
Shum warned the group that the state of Maryland may be planning an appeal to the court’s decision.
“I don’t think it’s a question of whether the State will appeal,” Shum cautioned, adding that the deadline to notify the Court of an appeal was coming up in early December.
“It’s evident that they [State of Maryland] are not serious and have no intent to be serious,” Burton said, calling for public pressure to continue from the Maryland HBCU Coalition and others. “I’d say, thanks for the glass half-full, but I think an opportunity was missed. We’re going to have to keep the State accountable.”
On Friday, December 8th, the State of Maryland filed a Notice of Appeal of the HBCU Equity Lawsuit decision.