Saschane Stephenson writes that supporters of HBCUs need to speak out against the University of Maryland schools merger. (Courtesy photo)

At what point is it suitable in Baltimore to give elected representatives a pass on doing their jobs effectively?   It’s a serious question.  Would it matter if they are two years “young” to the State Assembly or whether they are pushing twenty years of trekking to Annapolis?

Are constituents too idealistic in believing and trusting that an elected representative’s “word is bond?”  That is, we the people of Baltimore City really should wise up and not expect much from the bobbing figure-heads littering our mailbox with glossy literature, coming by each election season for picture-perfect church visits, and promising they’ve got “nothing but love for Baby.”  Downright shameful and disheartening is what it is.

If it isn’t apathy and outright failure on the job, then how then can the Baltimore City delegation members, and more importantly representatives of Districts 43 and 40, explain their cluelessness about the impact Senate (SB1052) and House (HB1607) bills (the ‘2016 Merger Bills’) may possibly have upon Baltimore City’s historically Black higher-ed institutions Coppin State and Morgan State Universities?

The sponsors of both the House and Senate versions of the “2016 Merger Bills” are two Baltimore City state representatives, respectively Delegate Curt Anderson and Senator Bill Ferguson.

For those who have been watching the movement of the two bills, the primary questions being asked while heads shake in disbelief and boiling frustration are, “Why sponsor and vote for the bill?!” and “Did they understand what they were reading?!”

What’s at Stake Here?

The 2016 House and Senate bills, bearing the title of The University of Maryland Strategic Partnership Act of 2016, both cloak a merger which moves an entire University of Maryland administrative center into Baltimore city, Coppin State and Morgan State Universities’ backyard, with millions of dollars in state funding going to already well-developed and funded traditionally White institutions like Towson University and University of Maryland-College Park.

We previously shared the following excerpt from the opinion memo from The Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education, et al. v. Maryland Higher Education Commission (the ‘Coalition Lawsuit’) case which determined two things specifically:

  • that the State of Maryland nurtures racial discrimination in a higher education context, and;
  • that the State of Maryland preserves or prolongs segregated conditions in its universities “by and through its continuous policies and practices” regarding academic programs and the unnecessary duplication of academic programs at Traditionally White Institutions (TWI) where those programs first originated at the Historically Black Institutions (HBIs).

The Coalition Lawsuit was brought and won by an alliance of students, faculty, alumni, and supporters of Maryland’s four HBIs, which includes Morgan State University and Coppin State University in Baltimore (the ‘Coalition’).

The Court found that the state of Maryland in its higher education policies had never truly abandoned segregation practices which landmark cases like Brown v. Board of Education and United States v. Fordice sought to resolve.

The proposed 2016 Merger Bills presently being considered by our representatives circumvent what the Court has asked the State of Maryland to do in the Coalition Lawsuit—fix the results of the State’s lingering practice of “de jure” segregation.  The Bills also highlight the contradiction of the State’s resistance to a Coalition proposal submitted in the Coalition Lawsuit for the merger of U of Baltimore into Morgan.

Enough Already

Last week, there was an announcement that leaders in the General Assembly had found and agreed to give $290 million in “aid” to jumpstart growth in Baltimore.  Senate President Mike Miller, champion of the packaged funding and supporter of the 2016 Merger Bills, worked with House Speaker Michael E. Busch in crafting the multi-million-dollar deal that reportedly includes money for a program at Towson University but nothing directly to Morgan State or Coppin State Universities.  Busch was quoted as saying, “It’s an opportunity to show the country, if you will, that you can have a renaissance in these urban communities that seem to have fallen on hard times.”

But smart people need to challenge the motives of the leaders and ask, “Haven’t we had enough short-term misplaced solutions to Baltimore City’s issues?  When is the State of Maryland and its leaders going to sit down and layout multi-million dollar funding to help grow Coppin and help establish and grow Morgan State as the “Urban Research University for the State of Maryland” as was designated by the General Assembly in 1998?”

There is more than enough evidence to show that investing in higher-education institutions and infrastructure around academic campuses establishes an anchor point which subsequently removes blight, establishes better housing, attracts stable income-earning residents, jobs and without fail creates a boon in economic development and an uptick in services by community businesses.

Is any portion of this $290 million going to benefit anyone impacted by last April’s unrest? Coppin State is but a 10-minute walk from the West Baltimore area of unrest and is surrounded by blight with not a penny spent toward bettering the surrounding infrastructure.  Is it not strange that Maryland’s leaders would rather invest tax-payer dollars in short-term solutions instead of in proven long-term investments that turn around communities like those surrounding Coppin State University?

If Morgan State University is “Maryland’s Public Urban University,” then why are the leaders of the Maryland General Assembly and the Baltimore City state delegation working so hard at keeping Morgan in the shadows and inferior to the largely White institutions under the University of Maryland system?  Why would elected leaders co-sign the 2016 Merger Bills that throw more money at schools in the well-heeled University of Maryland system, that move more segments of that system into Coppin and Morgan’s backyard, and generate unreasonable additional competition for students and resources to the possible detriment of Baltimore’s HBCU’s?

Is There Time to Fix Things?

Yes.  As of today, we are winding down to the critical period in which the Senate or House version of the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership Act of 2016 bills can die.  Sine Die is fast approaching and so is the rush to push bills to the finish line.

On Wednesday, March 30th, the House Appropriations Committee and the House of Delegates voted to approve HB 1067 with 17 amendments, none of which address the harm to Maryland’s HBCUs.  The House’s approval is not a mirror-image to the previously-approved Senate bill (SB 1052), which means the Senate has to take up the bill once more to see if they want to make the same 17 amendments.  Therefore, there is still room to have the Senate address and avert the detrimental impact on Morgan and Coppin State Universities.  The Senate is expected to view SB 1052 no later than April 1st as the final voting days in the Assembly run Monday, April 4th through Monday, April 11th.

Who is Responsible to Turn Things Around? 

You are.  You, as in: the readers of the Afro newspaper; residents of Baltimore City; students, staff, and faculty of Morgan State University and sister school Coppin State University; alumni and family members, friends and supporters.

“You” also includes the current pledges and members of the following Greek chapters of the National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations and fraternal organizations of the Council of Independent Organizations (CIO) who are being called out:

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity – Beta Alpha Chapter; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority – Alpha Delta Chapter; Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity – Alpha Iota Chapter; Omega Psi Phi Fraternity – Pi Chapter; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority – Alpha Gamma Chapter; Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity – Gamma Chapter; Iota Phi Theta Fraternity – Alpha Chapter; Zeta Phi Beta Sorority – Gamma Chapter; Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority – Beta Tau Chapter; Alpha Nu Omega Fraternity – Alpha Chapter; Alpha Nu Omega Sorority – Alpha Chapter; Groove Phi Groove Social Fellowship – Mother Bear; Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity – Eta Gamma Chapter; Malika Kambe Umfazi Sorority – Njeri Zubari Queendom Chapter; Pershing Angels Sorority – Company J-8-5; Pershing Rifles Fraternity – Company J-8; Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity – Pi Eta Chapter; Sigma Alpha Iota Music Fraternity for Women – Kappa Xi Chapter; Swing Phi Swing Social Fellowship – Marali Nubia Bear Chapter; Tau Beta Sigma National Honorary Band Sorority – Epsilon Omega Chapter; and Delta Chi Xi Honorary Dance Fraternity – Zeta Chapter.

The gauntlet has been set down before the listed organizations today, and before you as a reader.

Can you open your mouth and raise your voice as loud as the faithful belligerent members of the NRA?  School spirit and support is more than showing up for snapshots on Homecoming Day.  Is the present state of Morgan State University and Coppin State University not worth fighting for?   Is the future of your alma mater Morgan State and Coppin State not worth fighting for?

A Call to Action

The marching orders for every concerned and frustrated person are as follows:

(1) Call and email the offices of each Baltimore City state representatives for the 43rd and 40th Districts, as well as the offices of each member of the Baltimore City State Delegation—especially those who are Senate Members in the Appropriations and Budget and Taxation Committees, every day from now until Monday, April 4th, 2016.

Baltimore City delegation members’ office phone numbers and email addresses can be found at:
(a) Ask for answers on why they (members) have supported the bill, and voice your objection on any support for the House and Senate bills (HB 1607 and SB 1052)

(b) Insist that they do not vote in support of the ‘University of Maryland Strategic Partnership Act of 2016’ bills because doing so will financially harm and stunt the future of historically-Black Coppin State and Morgan State Universities

(2) Show up in peaceful protest at any Committee meeting on the named bills—meeting dates are posted on the Maryland Legislature website.  Just search for HB 1607 or SB 1052 in the “Find Legislation: By Number:” box .

It is not enough to be frustrated when legislators are asleep while driving at the ‘serving-constituents’ wheel, you must say something and, or, do something.  Being taken for granted by elected officials is no longer an option in 2016.

If Not Now, Then When?

If the Maryland legislators from all counties, and specifically the Baltimore City state delegation members, have lost their courage to stand up and do what is right and required under law to stop the State of Maryland from continuing to covertly perpetuate segregation tactics under the guise of a feel-good merger wrapped up in the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership Act of 2016, then remind them of what courage looks like.

Remind Maryland legislators today that your wishes count and you will remember how they chose to vote for or against Coppin State and Morgan State Universities when you’re looking down at the Ballot box.  Stand up, Speak Up, for Morgan and Coppin State Universities.


Saschane Stephenson is a former U.S. Presidential Management Fellow and an alumni of Howard University School of Law.