Nearly one year after closing arguments were submitted in the lawsuit brought against the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC), a decision has been handed down by United States District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake.

In a 60-page opinion released Oct. 7, Blake found the state of Maryland in violation of the U.S. Constitution for operating a system of higher education still rooted in segregation.

The Coalition for Excellence and Equity in Higher Education initially filed their case against MHEC in October of 2006.

The suit claimed that programs of study first offered by historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were being duplicated at traditionally white institutions (TWIs), thus, diminishing their ability to attract and fully matriculate students- especially when coupled with a history of underfunding for Black schools.

The six-week trial didn’t begin until the first week of January 2012 and was immediately followed by a five-month period where both MHEC and the coalition were able to provide written briefs, findings, and conclusions to the court.

“The State has failed to meet its burden of demonstrating there are no ongoing segregative effects that are a result of the traceable unnecessary program duplication proven by the Coalition,” said Blake, in the opinion.

Though she did agree that flagrant program duplications did exist in Maryland, she did not agree with the plaintiff’s claims of underfunding.

“While it may be true that the HBIs are at a ‘competitive disadvantage’ with TWIs because of past discriminatory treatment, the Coalition has not demonstrated that Maryland’s current funding practices or policies are traceable to the de jure era,” she ruled.

The case was heavily based on precedents set by United States v. Fordice, a 1992 Supreme Court ruling case which, among other things, concluded that program duplication as a sign that a state is operating higher education systems in segregation.

“This matter of duplication of programs is the most critical issue. The issue is one that has plagued not only the historically Black colleges in Maryland but throughout the country,” said Dr. Earl S. Richardson, Morgan State University president from 1984 to 2010.

It was Richardson who fought to keep specialty programs such as the Master of Business Administration (MBA) unique to Maryland’s designated public urban institute located in Northeast Baltimore.

Begun in 1969, the Morgan MBA program had 263 students in 1975.

Since that time, the University of Baltimore, the University of Maryland-University College and the Johns Hopkins University have all added MBA programs to their catalogue.

In 2004, Morgan State University fought against a joint MBA program between Towson University and the University of Baltimore. Richardson desperately wanted to protect Morgan’s 28 MBA students and prospective students who might find it hard to choose the Black school with fewer resources and older buildings when the same program was offered less than six miles away at Towson.

His efforts to stop the deal fell on deaf ears. MHEC approved the duplication in 2005. The coalition filed their case the next year.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Richardson told the AFRO, detailing how several instances of program duplication put up significant road blocks for Maryland’s set of four historically black institutions.

“For example, Bowie offered an MS in Computer Science before Towson introduced the program; yet, once Towson offered the MS, enrollment in Bowie’s program dropped precipitously, from 119 in 1994 to 29 in 2008, while enrollment went from 23 in 1994 to 101 in 2008 at Towson,” said Blake.

According to the opinion, “statewide, 60 percent of the noncore programs at Maryland’s HBIs are unnecessarily duplicated, compared with only percent of Maryland’s TWIs’ noncore programs.”

Faculty, staff, current and former students and college presidents from Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University, and University of Maryland, Eastern Shore all joined to form the coalition. And the opinion pointed out that while all of Maryland’s TWIs combined have 296 “unique, non-core programs,” that number is only 44 for all of the HBIs put together.

“But for the duplication of programs, I can’t imagine where these Black colleges would be,” said Richardson. “I can’t imagine how well developed they would have been, how large they would have grown, and what their impact would have been on the community, the school system and the economy.”

According to Pace J. McConkie, veteran civil rights lawyer and director of Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights in Education located at Morgan, the liability decision made and the remedy coming in the next several months are certain to have an impact on Black institutions nationwide.

“The court did not impose a remedy in this decision, it found the state in violation of federal law in respect to academic programs. We now venturing into the remedial stage of this case,” said Pace. “The court asked the parties to mediate a remedy. If the coalition and the state cannot come to an agreement on a remedy, the judge will impose a remedy after entertaining proposals from each side.”

Though the court ruled in the state’s favor in respect to policies and practices related to HBI funding, Pace said that the order to remedy program duplication could meet or surpass the $2.1 billion the coalition asked for in their suit.

“The court said that in order to remedy the violation there will need to be a transfer of programs from the TWIs to the Black institutions. There will have to be a merger of programs between the TWIs and the Black schools that favors the black schools,” said Pace.

“The court also said that new high demand programs must be implemented successfully at the historically Black schools that will not be duplicated at the TWIs. All of that will require substantial amounts of funds. It will require funds for facilities, faculty, staff, whatever it takes to meet the remedy.”

Pace also added that both sides have the option to appeal the decision.

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer