By Deborah Bailey, Special to the AFRO

Maryland HBCU advocates are bracing for another round in court in the twelve-year legal battle to dismantle the state’s dual system of higher education.  HBCU Advocates, represented by The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Higher Education are in the final days of court-ordered mediation with the State of Maryland.

The Coalition and the State of Maryland are in formal settlement talks until Oct. 18, the deadline for the parties to submit closing briefs appealing the case to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court in Richmond, Va. But,  HBCU advocates are not betting on cooperation from the State to accept the remedies due HBCUs established by the District Court of Maryland.

“While the Maryland HBCU case is still in mediation, due to the State’s refusal to accept Judge Blake’s ruling, the Maryland HBCU Matters Coalition is hard at work,” said Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, president of the HBCU Matters Coalition and veteran civil rights activist.

Maryland HBCU’s (Courtesy Images/Logos)

The HBCU Matters Coalition will host a series of informational symposia on each of the state’s HBCU campuses to update the public on the case, and “convey the importance of staying active and energized,” Cheatham said.

“If as expected, the governor and state of Maryland continue to fight the judge’s decision, we expect to plan trips to Richmond, Virginia,” Cheatham added.

“According to the briefing schedule, Oct. 18 is the date for submission of closing briefs. After that date, the Court, may, at its discretion, set a date on its calendar for oral argument,” said Pace McConkie, director of the Robert M. Bell Center for Civil Rights in Education at Morgan State University.

According to briefs filed by Attorney General Brian Frosh, the state plans to argue on appeal that it has  desegregated all of its “formerly White universities” and expanded funding at Historically Black Institutions (HBI’s).

“Maryland has fully integrated its formerly White universities and eliminated discriminatory admissions policies, funds its HBI’s at a level equal to or better than its non-HBI’s,” stated the May 2018 updated appeal brief filed by Frosh.

Ben Jealous, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate told the AFRO Maryland has reneged on its responsibilities and he plans to end the historic inequity negatively impacting Maryland’s HBCU’s for generations.

“I’ve put a detailed plan on the table to ensure that we finally treat our state’s HBCUs fairly. We’ve been underfunding public higher education for too long and we need to reorient our state’s priorities back towards making sure we’re preparing our kids for the workforce,” Jealous said.

“As governor, I’m committed to putting an end to this lawsuit and fulfilling the state’s obligations to our HBCUs.”

In 2013, Judge Catherine Blake, U.S. District Court of Maryland, found the state in violation of 14th Amendment rights of its HBCU students and alumni. Her ruling said Maryland continues to operate vestiges of a de jure system of segregation, specifically by continuing a longstanding practice of duplicating academic programs offered at HBCU’s, rather than investing in making the HBCU programs attractive to a diverse range of students.

By June 2017, after initial failed mediation between HBCU advocates and the state of Maryland, Blake ordered parties back into court.  In November of 2017, Blake issued an order providing for an administrator known as a special master to coordinate a comprehensive plan ensuring Maryland’s HBCU’s would be home to high quality academic programs.

“The Plan should propose a set of new unique and/or high demand programs at each HBI, taking into account each HBI’s areas of strength, physical building capacity and the programmatic niches suggested by the plaintiff’s experts,” Blake wrote in the November 2017 ruling.

By December 2017, Frosh gave notice that the state would appeal Blake’s ruling.

Frosh, who in prior years urged a mediated resolution to the long-standing HBCU lawsuit, explained why he is now extending the legal battle.

“It’s my job to defend the state when it gets sued,” Frosh told HBCU protestors who rallied outside his office in the months following the State’s appeal.

In January , Gov. Larry Hogan, further complicated the State’s message toward HBCU’s by writing to Del. Cheryl Glenn, former chair of the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus (LBC), offering a $100 million-dollar settlement offer. While the LBC supports HBCU advocates, the Caucus is not an official party to the lawsuit.

Hogan’s $100 million proposal would be split between Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.  His settlement offer stipulates a 10-year allocation period and relieves the State of responsibility for court costs.  Each institution would receive approximately 2.5 million per school, per year.

However, the estimated cost of the Coalition’s Plan to remedy the imbalance in quality academic programming offered at HBCU’s is in the $1-2 billion range.

Hogan’s offer also falls short of the $500 million settlement between the State of Mississippi and plaintiffs representing Mississippi’s three public HBCU’s almost 20 years ago, back in 2001, ending higher education desegregation litigation dating back to the 1970’s in that state.