Sen. Joan Carter Conway

Newly proposed legislation in the Maryland General Assembly would ensure Morgan State University—a public HBCU in Baltimore with its own governing board—remains independent of the University System of Maryland.

Baltimore Sen. Joan Carter Conway said she introduced the measure as a “precaution” against potential fallout from an ongoing lawsuit filed by supporters of Maryland’s HBCUs against the state and several of its agencies, including USM.

“As an outgrowth of the suit there’s been talk about the University of Baltimore being merged with Morgan. If that came to fruition, I did not want to get the idea that because UB is part of the University System of Maryland, Morgan would automatically be included,” Conway, a leading Democrat in Annapolis, told the AFRO.

Morgan President David Wilson said he “strongly” supports the legislation.

“Morgan has been an independent institution since 1988 and it is our anticipation that Morgan will remain independent,” Wilson said. “That independence has served Morgan very well and has enabled us to be much more nimble, flexible and responsive to the academic needs of our community.”

Conway said other state-owned HBCUs in Maryland that fall under the aegis of the University System have not fared as well.

“I just want to make sure Morgan is not under USM because they are defendants in the lawsuit in which they were found guilty of discriminating against the state’s HBCUs,” the senator said then continued, “Black institutions are not a priority for USM. If you look at what happened with Coppin and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore and Bowie, they have not progressed. So why would Morgan want to be under that system?”

Similar concerns about the state’s disparate treatment of its HBCUs prompted the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education—comprising current and former HBCU students—to file a federal lawsuit in 2006. In October 2013, District Judge Catherine Blake ruled partly in its favor, agreeing that Maryland had unconstitutionally allowed White institutions to duplicate already existing programs at nearby HBCUs thus undermining those institutions and perpetuating segregation.

Judge Blake asked the parties to submit remedial proposals before making a final judgment. The Coalition submitted a multi-pronged plan May 5, 2015, that included the possible absorption of the University of Baltimore into proximate Morgan State University to create one public urban university in the city. The state’s plan, submitted Nov. 20, included two proposals, which detractors said did nothing to address the issue of program duplication nor its effects.

The proposal was “insulting” and “disturbing,” Wilson told the AFRO in a previous interview. “I am hopeful the judge will see the state’s proposal for what it is: a proposal that is lacking in substance and is not about erasing the vestiges of segregation that has led to the inequitable treatment of HBCUs.”

Judge Blake has yet to make a final judgment, and Wilson said, “All the HBCU presidents are anxiously awaiting an outcome in this case as it will mean additional resources coming our way that should have been available to us for decades.”