Public Gets Involved in HBCU Lawsuit Issues

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The defendant's arguments in the May 11 motion hearing in a civil lawsuit brought by the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education against the Maryland Higher Education Commission have finally gotten the public engaged in this debate. The response to hearing coverage spilled onto the airways through the “Larry Young Morning Show” on WOLB, a talk radio station in Baltimore, Md.

Public comment and interest led former state Sen. Young to plan a special event on May 26, bringing in a variety of speakers to air the history and facts on the subject and to provide insight into the issues being covered in the lawsuit and how it could impact historically Black institutions.

Presenting some of the history of HBIs in Maryland and the manifestation of issues leading to the lawsuits were A. Dwight Pettit, Esq. and Maryland Sen. Joan Carter Conway, chair of the Senate Education Committee.

One thing Carter Conway stressed is that what's going on with this lawsuit and the continued disparity have nothing to do with political parties and ideology. Carter Conway, who has been fighting to eliminate duplicate programs and to provide equity treatment for HBIs since she entered the General Assembly, mentioned several bills she sponsored and fought for in Annapolis to address the problems that were defeated.

"I will continue to fight," she said.

Pettit, who served on the University of Maryland System Board of Regents, said he cares deeply for the HBCUs in this country but believes they suffer from benign neglect in appropriations of money for capital and operating expenses. He said the mindset is, "we know they're there, we know they need, but if we just ignore them, maybe they will go away."

He posited that much of the continued pushback on the issues in this case is power play by the University of Maryland System, and that when the Black institutions were ignored, no one spoke up for them. "I was the lone voice," Pettit said.

Maryland Legislative Black Caucus Chair Catherine Pugh said the Caucus supported the need for and mission of the HBCUs and that the organization would be sending a letter to Maryland's State's Attorney Douglas Gansler about the issue. Sen. Pugh, a Morgan graduate, said HBCUs have traditionally provided the remedial training needed without additional funding. "What we've traditionally done is more with less," she added.

Dr. Patricia Ramsey, professor of biology at Bowie State University and former interim president, reminded the listening audience that Bowie was the oldest HBCU in the Maryland and has graduated the highest number of students with master's degrees in computer science in the country. "If we didn't have HBCUs, we would have to create them," she said

She also shared that alumni of HBCUs have gone on to succeed in the best universities in the country. "We need to be proactive and put out the data …, " Ramsey said.

Dr. Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, also in the studio, and host Young encouraged the audience to stay informed on the issues involved in this case and to make their voices heard. Young said the public has to be unafraid and take action.