A federal judge’s ruling that Maryland violated the constitutional rights of the students at its historically Black college and universities by perpetuating segregation will have a significant impact both within and beyond the state’s borders, experts said.

Federal District Judge Catherine Blake ruled Oct. 7 that Maryland, by allowing traditionally White institutions to duplicate programs already offered by historically Black colleges and universities, had created de facto segregation in its higher education system.

Maryland “offered no evidence that it has made any serious effort to address continuing historic duplication. Second, and even more troubling, the State has failed to prevent additional duplication, to the detriment of the HBIs,” Blake wrote in her opinion.

Clifton Conrad, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and an expert in the area of segregation in higher education, said program duplication is a major indicator of the dualism that still exists in higher education despite the passage of landmark cases such as the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education and the 1992 U.S. v. Fordice, which attempted to mitigate the problem.

Brown didn’t work in higher education, did it? No,” said the professor, who worked on Fordice and was called as an expert witness in the Maryland case.
In her opinion, Blake noted that statewide, 60 percent of the noncore programs at Maryland’s HBCUs are unnecessarily duplicated, compared with only 18 percent of its TWIs’ noncore programs. And, of the unique high-demand programs that fuel enrollment, there was an average of 17 per TWI and only three per HBCU.

The lack of unique programs at HBCUs has a segregating effect since it decreases the school’s attractiveness to students of all races, said Lezli Baskerville, president and CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), mirroring Blake’s conclusions.

“When you undercut and duplicate those courses offered by HBCUs, you are not just segregating the schools and perpetuating a dual system of education, you are undermining our (Black) institutions in terms of growth,” she said.

Conrad concurred, saying, the presence of unique programs leads to increased funding.

“When you have unique, quality noncore programs the money will come,” he said.

Both Conrad and Baskerville said Judge Blake’s ruling could serve as a “wake-up” call to other jurisdictions, since Maryland is not the only state that has lingering policies traceable to the de jure or legal era of segregation.

“This (decision) is significant not only for Maryland,” Baskerville said. “We were waiting with bated breath for the ruling, hoping that this would set good precedent for at least four other states.”

NAFEO has complaints pending in at least four other states including Florida, Oklahoma and Texas. And there have been other red flags in states like Louisiana, Georgia and Ohio, she said.

For example, Baskerville said, Georgia’s Savannah State University, an HBCU, launched an acclaimed homeland security program that promised to draw students from all over. Within a matter of months, however, the state allowed a TWI in close proximity to launch a replica of that program and enrollment in the HBCU’s program petered out.

“ gives us the leverage to go to other state legislatures, higher education systems, etc. and see if states have willingly or unknowingly perpetuated a dual system of higher education and to address the problem,” she said, later adding, “The judge went to great lengths to establish a good record for what states should look at in making good decisions about whether there are lingering effects of de jure segregation.”

In her opinion, Blake offered guidelines Maryland should consider as they developed an approach to dealing with the segregative program duplication.

Those included “expansion of mission and program uniqueness and institutional identity at the HBIs,” and even “the transfer or merger of select high demand programs from TWIs to HBIs.”

Any solution will pose a difficult challenge to the state, Conrad said. Resources will have to be appropriated for faculty training, facility rehabbing and the like, which may be less tasking that trying to divvy up the programs among the institutions.

“It’s tricky because you have a lot of institutions involved. So it’s going to invite some creativity in finding the remedy to give HBCUs a useful programmatic identity,” Conrad said. “It’s challenging; it’s not going to be easy. Institutions like things to stay as they are change and innovation can be painful.”

But the pain is worth it, he added.

“It is 2013. We need to get rid of the vestiges of segregation and move on,” he said.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO